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Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS)

  • Last Updated : 26 Dec, 2021

Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), with the operational name NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation), is a system of 7 satellites, 3 in geostationary orbit and 4 in geosynchronous orbit. This is a satellite navigation system, like GPS, that provides positioning and timing services with very high accuracy in real-time. The need for developing a homegrown GPS has arisen due to the geostrategic and military importance of such a system, though most of its use will be in the civilian domain. 

Satellite navigation has its origin in the “Space Race” of the Cold War era between the United States of America (USA) and the Soviet Union (USSR). The USA started experimenting with satellite navigation in the 1960s by tracking their own nuclear submarines using the phenomenon of the Doppler Effect”. The project gained prominence in the mid-70s and the USA was able to perfect the Global Positioning System (GPS) by the year 1993 with the launch of the 24th satellite of the system, which allowed complete global coverage at all times. 

Though GPS has been considered a reliable navigation system, it has been alleged that the USA can deny the service to a particular area or feed wrong coordinates to an enemy nation. It was reported that during the Iraq war, the Iraqi military was fed wrong coordinates of the location of the USA army, and hence all the attacks against America were rendered ineffective. Again, it has been alleged that the USA denied the military-grade GPS signals to India during Kargil War. This may become a major problem in the long run if countries controlling the satellite navigation systems refuse to help India in hostile and critical situations.  

With this thought in mind, India embarked on the journey of creating its own homegrown Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS). 

It has a coverage area of up to 1500 km beyond the territorial boundaries of India. Like USA-operated GPS, IRNSS also provides service at two levels – the “standard positioning service” (open to civilian use) and a restricted use (for defense services and other authorized agencies). 

How Does IRNSS Help in Navigation?

IRNSS satellites continuously emit microwave radiation. The microwave signals contain information about the position of satellites and precise time from atomic clocks. The signals from at least four satellites are received by ground receivers, which then triangulate their own position using the position of satellites and the time taken for the signals to reach the receiver. Out of the four satellites, three are used for calculating the position in space (latitude, longitude, and altitude) and the fourth one is for timing correction. These receivers, if integrated with maps, can be used for turn-by-turn navigation guidance as is the case with Google maps.

Some of the uses of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System

1. Strategic Significance

As we have already seen above, dependency on foreign power-operated navigation systems may prove fatal in situations of war. IRNSS will ensure that Indian defense forces receive accurate information regarding the enemy positions and precisely track their own troop movements. All three Indian defense forces are in the process of integrating IRNSS into their aircraft. With a resolution of 20 meters, IRNSS will reduce dependence on GPS for accurate targeting and positioning. The weapons can be fired with high precision and cavalry attacks can be launched efficiently. The operationalization of IRNSS could not have come at a better time. Under Atmanirbhar Bharat and Make in India initiatives, the government is giving a push to the indigenization of defense forces. A lot of Indian-made platforms and equipment like weapons, fighter jets, drones, and submarines are beginning to bear fruit. All these can use a navigation system that is under India’s control and will ensure signal availability and accuracy under critical political and military situations.

2. Disaster Management

India is a country prone to numerous natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, landslides, and cyclones, as well as man-made disasters like mine collapse and breaking of dams. During extreme events, communication and transport systems break down. In such a scenario, the disaster response team can use NavIC for navigating with ease within the affected area and saving lives. IRNSS can be used to track the movement of landslides and cyclones; determine the degree of damage in earthquakes and tsunamis, estimate the depth of the water during floods, and the extent of forest fires. With first-hand knowledge of the ground situation, disaster response can be very swift and highly efficient. Besides disaster response, NavIC can also help in disaster mitigation as well. With its help, structural deformities can be noticed in dams and other large structures. The oil fields and mining areas can be monitored for possible subsidence of land. If any abnormality is observed, corrective action can be taken in time to prevent any mishap.

3. Tracking of Vehicle and Fleet Management

With the ability to determine nearly accurate positions, IRNSS can allow commercial establishments as well as defense forces to track their fleet of vehicles. This ensures that the entire fleet is accounted for and has not taken unnecessary halts. A lot of food grain from the Public Distribution System has been lost in transit due to the black marketing of grains by the transportation companies or the drivers of trucks acting individually. Also, time and again, issues have been raised regarding female passengers’ safety on public transportation. In the Nirbhaya Verdict, Supreme Court instructed that all commercial vehicles be fitted with vehicle tracking systems.

In view of this, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has made it mandatory that all commercial vehicles are to be fitted with NavIC- based trackers. This will enable law enforcement agencies to track any commercial vehicle through an independent autonomous system under our control. It is already in use on many trains, providing us with Real-Time Information System. GAGAN, a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS), is presently being implemented using GPS. However, in the future, it can run on signals received from IRNSS.

4. Other Benefits

IRNSS can be used to map Indian and surrounding terrain using geodetic surveys. IRNSS receivers can be integrated into mobile phones. This integration, along with mapping of terrain, will pave the path for visual and voice navigation for drivers, just like Google maps. Qualcomm, the manufacturers of Snapdragon chipset, has announced support for NavIC on select chipset platforms. This move by Qualcomm will ease the proliferation of IRNSS usage and improve the geolocation capabilities of the Internet of Things (IoT), mobile and automotive solutions. The NavIC can be used for terrestrial navigation by hikers and travelers without fear of getting lost.  

Conclusion

With the introduction of IRNSS, India has joined the elite club of a few select countries with satellite navigation capability.  It has made India independent in terms of navigational capabilities, especially in military terms. In the future, the services of IRNSS can be given to neighboring countries, on a commercial basis or free of cost as part of the geostrategic move. With more additions in the number of satellites, the reach of IRNSS will continue to increase till it achieves global coverage.

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