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ISRO initiates ‘Project NETRA’ to safeguard Indian space assets from debris and other harm (Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology)

What is Project NETRA?
Project NETRA (Network for space object Tracking and Analysis) was initiated by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in August, 2019. The objective of the project is to develop an early warning system in space to detect debris and other hazards to Indian satellites. The project estimated to cost ₹400 crore.

What is the benefit expected from NETRA?
The project will give India its own capability in space situational awareness (SSA). It also goes so far as to serve as an unstated warning against missile or space attack for the country, experts say. The space agency says our SSA will first be for low-earth orbits or LEO which have remote-sensing spacecraft.  NETRA’s eventual goal is to capture the GEO, or geostationary orbit, scene at 36,000 km where communication satellites operate.

What will NETRA consist of?
Under NETRA, the ISRO plans to put up many observational facilities: connected radars, telescopes; data processing units and a control centre. They can, among others, spot, track and catalogue objects as small as 10 cm, up to a range of 3,400 km and equal to a space orbit of around 2,000 km.

With this the ISRO, which has placed satellites to track the earth from above, will also start training its eyes on space from earth.

What is Space debris?
Space debris could be floating particles from dead satellites or rocket parts that stay in orbit for many years. Satellite agencies fear over even a speck of paint or fragment floating towards their spacecraft: it disables on board electronics and cripples the satellite worth several hundred crore rupees besides many services that run on it. Agencies constantly look for debris at the time of a launch and through the life of a satellite.

What would constitutes eyes on earth?
In the plans are a high-precision, long range telescope in Leh and a radar in the North East. Along with them, ISRO will also use the Multi-Object Tracking Radar (MOTR) that we is stationed at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, and the telescopes at Ponmudi and Mount Abu in order to get a broad SSA picture. The new SSA centre would consolidate debris tracking activities that are now spread across ISRO centres.

What is the present status on protecting satellite from space debris?
Even now ISRO undertakes collision avoidance manoeuvres on satellites. To do that it depends on data from NORAD and others available in the public domain but ISRO doesn’t get accurate [or comprehensive] information. By establishing an observation system of our own, ISRO will become part of the global network and can access precise data.

NORAD, or the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is an initiative of the U.S. and Canada that shares selective debris data with many countries.

Satellites presently functioning
Currently there are 15 functional Indian communication satellites in the geostationary orbit of 36,000 km; 13 remote sensing satellites in LEO of up to 2,000 km; and eight navigation satellites in medium earth orbits.

Military aspect
More importantly, the SSA also has a military quotient to it and adds a new ring to the country’s overall security.With long-range tracking radars, the SSA also provides us the capability of an early warning system against ballistic missiles coming in at a height.

In future, apart from radars and telescopes, India will also think of deploying satellites that track other satellites — as the U.S. and other space powers had done.

Combined with other elements of military intelligence, SSA would also help us to understand motives behind any suspicious orbit changes of other satellites and to know if they were spying on or harming our spacecraft.

Source: The Hindu



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