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Role of ISRO in development activities’

Published: 17th Aug, 2020

  • ISRO is fast enlarging its role into development activities
  • ISRO is fast enlarging its role into development activities

ISRO and its continuously expanding role:

  • Indian Space Research Organisation is no longer confined mainly to the launching of satellites, but it has been constantly enlarging its role in development activities, thus contributing to Prime Minister’s mission of Transforming India.
  • In agriculture the ISRO technology is now also being used to carry out crop production forecast for at least eight major crops including wheat, kharif and rabi rice, mustard, jute, cotton, sugarcane, rabi sorghum and rabi pulses.
  • In the Railway sector, it was in the recent years that the applications of space technology were realised in guarding unmanned railway crossings, detecting obstructive objects on rail tracks to avoid train accidents and other such activities.
  • Satellite imaging is now being utilised for supervising Indian borders and to check foreign infiltrations.
  • ISRO and the Department of Space have already overtaken several other countries in their space endeavours and the images procured by missions like Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) are now being utilised even by premier space centres.

Role of ISRO in rural development

  • Village resource centre: ISRO has embarked upon VRC programme to disseminate the portfolio of services emanating from the space systems as well as other Information Technology (IT) tools, directly down-the-line to the rural communities.
    • With the involvement of stakeholders, VRCs will catalyse rural entrepreneurship; and facilitate e-Governance and other services of social relevance.
    • ISRO is implementing VRC programme in partnership with reputed NGOs, Trusts and other agencies including the Governmental ones.

VRC Services – Portfolio:

  • Tele-education: Focus is on imparting vocational training at local level - aimed at skill development and capacity building to catalyse livelihood support in rural areas; supplementary teaching to rural children; and non-formal and adult education.
  • Tele-healthcare: Thrust is on both preventive and curative healthcare at primary level. The Telemedicine system at VRCs consists of customised medical software, with certain medical diagnostic instruments. With the help of local doctor/ paramedic, expert medical consultation and counseling are provided to the villagers from specialty hospitals. Healthcare awareness is also a major activity of VRCs.
  • Land and Water Resources Management: Information on land and water resources extracted from satellite images is organised in Geographical Information System (GIS), and provided to the villagers through the VRC. The local farmers, availing the support of the skilled/ trained personnel managing VRCs, utilise this information for better management of their land resources.
  • Interactive Advisory Services: VRCs facilitate interactions between the local people and experts at knowledge centers - Agricultural Universities, Technical Institutions, etc - on a wide range of subjects such as alternative cropping systems, optimisation of agricultural inputs-like seeds, water, fertilizer, insecticides, pesticides, producer oriented marketing opportunities, crop insurance, etc.
  • Tele-fishery: VRCs located at coastal tracts are being provided with near real time information on satellite derived Potential Fishing Zones (PFZ). Information pertaining to inland fisheries, aquaculture, etc., is also provided through VRCs as relevant.
  • E-Governance services: The services include information and guidance to local people on village oriented governmental schemes on agriculture, poverty alleviation, rural employment, social safety nets and other basic entitlements, animal husbandry and livestock related, micro-finance related, etc.
  • Weather Services: Short, medium and long-term weather forecasts, at local level; and agro meteorology advisory services are being enabled.
  • Disaster Management Support: The Disaster Management Support (DMS) Programme of ISRO, provides timely support and services from aero-space systems, both imaging and communications, towards efficient management of disasters in the country.
  • Remote sensing applications: Remote sensing has enabled mapping, studying, monitoring and management of various resources like agriculture, forestry, geology, water, ocean etc.

Role of ISRO in Urban Development

  • Various factors such as the rate of population increase, urban sprawl etc. pose the challenge to the urban environment of cities. These change forces policy makers to plan the city in accordance. High resolution satellite data provides a tool by which these changes can be managed and planned for broad expansion of urban environments.
  • The increased spatial accuracy and frequent revisit periods allows planners to construct action scenarios and compile accurate database of spatial environments.
  • Satellite-based remote sensing holds certain advantages in monitoring the dynamics of urban land use because of the large spatial coverage for mapping applications, more frequent revisit periods and wide availability.
  • Government of India has launched Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Urban Development. ISRO works closely with Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) for the "Creation of geo-spatial databases for the formulation of GIS Based Master Plan for AMRUT cities.
  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has tied up with the Union Urban Development Ministry for mapping around 500 towns and cities, to make a base plan for better planning and management. The space agency will also map and provide management plans for heritage sites and monuments of national importance.

Challenges, Opportunities, and Strategic Concerns of India’s space programe

  • As an emerging nation with both vast developmental needs and profound security concerns, India has had to balance many requirements in its rapid advance as a new space power.
  • Beijing’s activities in recent years have been driven by competition with the United States, so the capabilities it is developing are much more advanced than what are necessary to deter India. Nonetheless, India has to be mindful of Chinese advances.
  • Beyond the maritime domain, India has been relying on foreign partners for many other satellite-based communications and data services. For instance, it continues to rely on NASA for deep space communications. India also works a great deal with France to launch its heavy satellites.
  • The ISRO’s problems are likely to confront it in two forms. The first is simply the fact that it has deficit issues both in technical capacity and manpower placing constraints on its production strength.
  • The second challenge confronting ISRO is foreign competition particularly for the launch of small satellites, which is an expanding market. The Elon Musk owned SpaceX Falcon 9 is widely considered a serious potential threat to ISRO’s workhorse the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
  • The PSLV a highly reliable launch vehicle has provided cost effective rideshare launches to small satellite makers. However, with the emergence of a highly reliable Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) in the form Falcon 9, it is in ISRO’s best interest, albeit demanding, to divest control of Research and Development (R&D), production and pave the way for commercialization of small satellites by the private sector.
  • India does not have an explicit space policy to guide private sector participation. India does have some sector-specific policies, such as for satellite communications and remote sensing data. But these have not been fleshed out well. Industry is unsatisfied, complaining that the policies do not detail how the government will partner with commercial actors.
  • There have been increasing calls for allowing private sector firms to manage some of the tried and tested programs, which would allow ISRO to refocus on the larger, more ambitious interplanetary missions, as well as purely research-oriented programs.
  • Privatization may also allow India to increase its launch capacity, which is currently at four to five per year and compares poorly with the twenty or so launches China does on average. Increasing the number of launches is partly an infrastructural problem tied to the number of launch facilities in India, but ISRO also has internal constraints on its capacity to deliver.


India's economic progress has made its space program more visible and active as the country aims for greater self-reliance in space technology. In the last half century, there have been significant advances in space applications for development, and ISRO now needs new goals. However, these goals have to be unique and should put ISRO in a lead position – the way its use of space applications for development did.


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