Global & Indian Space Missions

 A vantage point far above the earth provides a synoptic view of the earth as a whole system.  We can observe the results of complex interactions, and begin to understand how our planet is changing.  A number of national and global agencies are working either independently or with domestic and international partners to map all aspects of earth.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US and Jet Propulsion laboratory (JPL) take the lead in satellite remote sensing, providing accurate, objective scientific data and analysis to advance our understanding of Earth system processes.  The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has developed space technology and its application to various national tasks. ISRO has established two major space systems, INSAT for communication, and Indian Remote Sensing Satellites (IRS) system for resources monitoring and management. ISRO has developed two satellite launch vehicles, PSLV and GSLV, to place INSAT and IRS satellites in the required orbits. This article summarizes only the important satellite remote sensing missions undertaken by NASA, JPL and ISRO.

NASA and JPL Missions

The Earth Observing System (EOS) is a major component of NASA's Earth-Sun System Missions. The mission includes a series of satellites, a science component, and a data system supporting a coordinated series of polar-orbiting and low inclination satellites for long-term global observations of the land surface, biosphere, solid Earth, atmosphere, and oceans. EOS is enabling an improved understanding of the Earth as an integrated system. The EOS Project Science Office (EOSPSO) is committed to bringing program information and resources to program scientists and the general public alike.

ASTER - (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) is an imaging instrument  flying on Terra, a satellite launched in December 1999 as part of NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS). ASTER is a cooperative effort between NASA,  Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and Japan's Earth Remote Sensing Data Analysis Center (ERSDAC). ASTER is being used to obtain detailed maps of land surface temperature, reflectance and elevation. The three EOS platforms are part of NASA's Science Mission Directorate and the

GRACE – Under the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Program, twin satellites launched in March 2002, are making detailed measurements of Earth's gravity field which will lead to discoveries about gravity and Earth's natural systems. These discoveries could have far-reaching benefits to society and the world's population.

MISR – Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer - No instrument like MISR has flown in space before. Viewing the sunlit Earth simultaneously at nine widely spaced angles, MISR provides ongoing global coverage with high spatial detail. Its imagery is carefully calibrated to provide accurate measures of the brightness, contrast, and color of reflected sunlight.

MISR provides new types of information for scientists studying Earth's climate, such as the partitioning of energy and carbon between the land surface and the atmosphere, and the regional and global impacts of different types of atmospheric particles and clouds on climate. The change in reflection at different view angles affords the means to distinguish different types of atmospheric particles (aerosols), cloud forms, and land surface covers. Combined with stereoscopic techniques, this enables construction of 3-D models and estimation of the total amount of sunlight reflected by Earth's diverse environments.

SRTM - The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) obtained elevation data on a near-global scale to generate the most complete high-resolution digital topographic database of Earth. SRTM consisted of a specially modified radar system that flew onboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour during an 11-day mission in February of 2000.  SRTM is an international project spearheaded by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  NASA has released the SRTM data set for Australia, New Zealand, and numerous South Pacific islands.

LANDSAT - The Landsat Program is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Since 1972, Landsat satellites have collected information about Earth from space. This science, known as remote sensing, has matured with the Landsat Program.

Landsat satellites have taken specialized digital photographs of Earth’s continents and surrounding coastal regions for over three decades, enabling people to study many aspects of our planet and to evaluate the dynamic changes caused by both natural processes and human practices. 

Landsat is the longest-running project for acquisition of moderate resolution imagery of the Earth from space. The Landsat 1 satellite was launched in 1972; the most recent, Landsat 7, was launched in 1999. Landsat 7 is a 5000 pound-class satellite designed for a 705 km, Earth mapping orbit with a 16-day repeat cycle. Its payload is a single nadir-pointing instrument, the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+). The ETM+ provides for an eight-band multispectral scanning radiometer capable of providing high-resolution image information of the Earth's surface. The ETM+ is designed to collect, filter and detect radiation from the Earth in a swath 185 km wide as it passes overhead. It produces approximately 3.8 gigabits of data for each scene, which is roughly equivalent to nearly 15 sets of encyclopedias at 29 volumes per set.

LANDSAT 7 - Landsat 7 systematically provides well-calibrated, multispectral, moderate resolution, substantially cloud-free, sun-lit digital images of the Earth's continental and coastal areas with global coverage on a seasonal basis. It covers the United States every 16 days. Operations were transferred to USGS on Fall 2000.

The Landsat Project is a joint initiative of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the NASA to gather Earth resource data using a series of satellites. NASA was responsible for developing and launching the spacecrafts, while the USGS is responsible for flight operations, maintenance, and management of all ground data reception, processing, archiving, product generation, and distribution.

The primary objective of the Landsat Project is to ensure a collection of consistently calibrated Earth imagery. Landsat's Global Survey Mission is to establish and execute a data acquisition strategy that ensures repetitive acquisition of observations over the Earth's land mass, coastal boundaries, and coral reefs; and to ensure the data acquired are of maximum utility in supporting the scientific objectives of monitoring changes in the Earth's land surface and associated environment.

The Indian Mission

Its mandate of the Indian Space Research Organization is the development of technologies related to space and their application to India's development.  Since its formation, ISRO has launched numerous satellites under the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite series.  The IRS series provide remote sensing services and are composed of the 1 (A, B,C, D). The recent launches are named based on their area of application including OceanSat, CartoSat, ResourceSat. Some of the satellites have alternate designations based on the launch number and vehicle (P series for PSLV). ISRO and the Department of Space (India) have jointly formed Antrix Corp Ltd, for promoting and marketing IRS satellites.

Indian Remote Sensing satellites (IRS) are a series of Earth Observation satellites, mostly built, launched and maintained by Indian Space Research Organisation of India as part of the Indian space program. The IRS series provides remote sensing services and are composed of the 1 (A,B,C,D). The future versions are named based on their area of application including OceanSat, CartoSat, ResourceSat. Some of the satellites have alternate designations based on the launch number and vehicle (P series for PSLV).

IRS milestones

·         Technology Experiment Satellite (TES) 22 October 2001

·         IRS P6 (Resourcesat 1) 17 October 2003

·         IRS P5 (Cartosat 1) 5 May 2005

·         IRS P4 (Oceansat 1) 27 May 1999

·         IRS P3 21 March 1996

·         IRS P2 15 October 1994

·         IRS P1 (also IE)

·         IRS 1D 29 September 1997

·         IRS 1C 28 December 1995

·         IRS 1B 29 August 1991

·         IRS 1A 17 March 1988

Future IRS Launches

·         Cartosat 2 (IRS P7): 2006

·         Risat: 2007-2008

·         Oceansat 2: 2006-2007

·         Resourcesat 2

·         Twsat




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