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Can GISAT’s performance be improved?

Article by Tapan Mishra,  an Indian scientist who was the director of Space Applications Centre, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

We have a common characteristics: we never understand importance of our real achievements, but we go ga ga over lesser achievements, because they happen to catch eyeballs, entirely for different reasons. One such was hardly known GSAT 29, geo stationary satellite with experimental payloads, launched way back in Nov 2018.

GSAT-29 launched in Nov 2018

I personally took this God sent opportunity to enthuse my colleagues in SAC (Space Applications Centre , ISRO)  to think differently and develop an array of avant garde payloads. They included, apart from main Ka/Ku band satcom payload, an array of experimental payloads, conceptualized and developed for the first time in ISRO:

– Q and V band satcom payload

– optical communication payload

– miniaturised Ka band data transmitter, solely based on in-house designed MMIC modulator and 2W power transmitter

– Geo High Resolution Camera (GHRC)

I had a fondness for this camera payload.

When we put forward the idea, most of my colleagues were skeptical. Idea was to build a miniaturised and cheap Geo imaging payload at a resolution of 45 m from a height of 36000 km, better than 60 m resolution of of gigantic GISAT (to be flown at the end of this month). In fact GHRC used a very light weight metal mirror of 0.3 m dia against GISAT’s massive Zerodur ( a special glass ceramic material) parabolic mirror of 1.3 m dia.

GISAT mirror needs costly import of Zerodur blanks (solid thick flat plate) from Europe, which itself takes one year from order placement and additional one year of machining and light weighting. Compared to that, GHRC mirror can be machined in India in 3 weeks, from commercially available Aluminum block and at a laughably fractional cost.

GISAT to be launched on March 28th

The original resolution of GHRC was 200 + m. But they are sampled at precise 35 to 40 m apart and the oversampled data was super resolved to give 45 to 55 m resolution image. In fact, had we sampled closer like 20 m, we could have generated 25 m resolution image.

I have special appreciation for my mechanical engineer colleagues for conceptualizing and realizing a crucial precision mirror scanning mechanism for this payload. That too indigenously. In fact for the first time in ISRO’s VHRR class radiometric payloads, I did not notice those annoying overshoots and undershoots in scan lines and missed samples.

Just because nobody has thought of such payload, decision makers feel uncomfortable with untrodden approach and feel comfortable with a conventional brute force design of a bulky system.

For some reason or other, this payload did not get much traction, hardly used. Had we followed through our innovation, we could have sent 4 small satellites with this miniaturised payload in place of one GISAT. We not only could have 4 times faster imaging, but also would have ensured in-space reduntancy.

If we extended this approach, we could have got Cartosat with 60 kg Cubesat in place of present day 700 kg one.

GHRC had all the characteristics of game changing innovation:

-Light in weight, by an order

– Very fast production turn around time, by an order

– Very cheap, also by a large fraction

– completely Made in India.

Unfortunately, like all major innovations in India, it died young because of parental apathy.

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