Earth observation satellite policy must have ‘shutter control’, time-bound permits: Experts

This spectacular “blue marble” image of Earth is the most detailed true-color image of the entire Earth till date. (Photo Courtesy: Reto Stockli/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Chennai, Nov 24 (IANS) With the Indian earth observation satellite sector transitioning from space agency driven to industry driven, there is a need to stipulate the timelines for permissions and the policy be a comprehensive one, said experts.

The DOS recently came out with its Draft Space Based Remote Sensing Policy of India-2020 and has called for comments and suggestions by Dec 11, 2020.

For a nation, earth observation or remote sensing satellites are eyes in the skies that take ground pictures for various applications including national security.

“The Earth-observation sector is transitioning from being space-agency driven to industry-driven. That being so, there was a need to graduate from the Remote Sensing Data Policy of 2011,” Chaitanya Giri, Fellow, Space and Ocean Studies Programme, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations told IANS.

Commending the draft Space Based Remote Sensing Policy brought out by DOS, Giri said the document needs to be comprehensive.

“This 2020 draft needs to specify precise geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) policies concerning national security. The draft should explain how India will enforce ‘shutter control’ over sensitive areas and geographies. In its current form, the draft does not mention an action plan if nefarious state and non-state actors use commercial remote sensing data to generate GEOINT, particularly of foreign origin, against India,” Giri said.

He also said, the draft policy must also specify the exact technical specifications of sensitive remote sensing data and imagery for different wavelength ranges.

As per the draft policy, owing to national security considerations, a category of data will be identified as ‘sensitive’ and a different mechanism for dissemination of such data is envisaged.

“Also, Government shall reserve the right to impose/control on the imaging/observation and its data distribution, when national security and/or international obligations and/or foreign policies of the Government, so requires. In such cases, Government may restrict operations of the commercial systems and limit collection and/or dissemination of certain data and products,” states the draft policy.

According to the draft, very high resolution data having ground sampling distance less than fifty centimeter will be treated as ‘sensitive’ and requires specific authorization for dissemination.

The dissemination of such data will be regulated/controlled by the Government of India, as per the consideration of national security and prevailing foreign policy,” the draft policy states.

As per the draft policy, the satellite systems for strategic sector shall be realised using indigenous designs, systems and infrastructure providing the capabilities of secured environment by DOS.

While realizing such missions, DOS may avail capabilities of Indian industry, when deemed appropriate.

On the other hand, in the interest of promoting research, innovation, societal applications and value addition, DOS shall make Indian Remote Sensing Satellite (IRS) data having ground sampling distance of five metres and coarser, easily accessible on ‘free and open’ basis.

This is the second draft policy and Norms, Guidelines and Procedures for Implementation of Space Based Remote Sensing Policy of India – 2020 relating to space sector put out by DOS.

The first only was the Draft Space Based Communication Policy of India-2020 (Spacecom Policy-2020) and draft Norms, Guidelines and Procedures for implementation of Spacecom Policy-2020 (Spacecom NGP-2020).

Reacting to the draft remote sensing policy Narayan Prasad, Chief Operating Officer, Satsearch, told IANS: “But with all drafts that DOS is putting out, there is no time cap on decision making. They should have a time cap like 90 days after which it’s automatic green light. Also it will be good to know what is the foreign direct investment cap for companies in India.”

As per the draft policies, Indian National Space Promotion & Authorization Centre (INSPACe) will be the nodal registering and permitting agency for the private sector.

While encouraging the private sector, the DOS will focus on providing continuity of key remote sensing missions services and development of systems with newer technologies for realising innovative applications and research and development (R&D).

“Such remote sensing systems will be brought into operation for sustainability by the Government and shall be pursued by DOS.

Similarly, in view of sensitivities involved for strategic observations, the systems that needs to be developed with indigenous designs will be under the direct control of Government and shall be pursued by DOS,” the draft policy notes.

As per the draft policy, Indian entities can establish and operate satellite remote sensing systems to provide remote sensing data.

The private sector can also undertake design, development and realisation of satellites and associated remote sensing systems. They can establish satellite system through their own built satellite or procured satellite.

They can establish Telemetry, Tracking & Command (TT&C) and Satellite data reception stations in or outside India. They can offer the capacity to commercial and societal applications within India as well as outside India.

The private sector can also supply their systems and solutions to international markets. Indian entities can avail state-of-the-art facilities of the Government for manufacturing satellite and associated ground segment.

It can be availed from designated public sector undertaking/central public sector enterprise under DOS on commercial terms, subject to availability.

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