Expanding Sentinel Asia's Earth Observation Network
Madhavan Nair
Chairman, Indian Space Research Organization
Right from the beginning of the Indian Space Program, disaster management has been designated as one of the important areas. Earlier, we were using geostationary satellites to observe this part of the world, to look at cloud patterns, cloud movement, etc. With years of experience we are now able to make advanced predictions on cyclone movement and heavy rainfall. Based on satellite information, we are now able to transmit warnings to the people who will be affected by such events, and to evacuate them immediately after or even before the incident. Also, we have used satellite data to create a database on flood-susceptible areas. So when floods occur, we can now carry out detailed investigation as to which areas are inundated and how we can lead the relief measures. So in this way, we have been using both low-orbit and geostationary satellites for disaster-warning and disaster-management purposes.
Right now, we have seven earth-observation satellites. Out of that I will rate our RESOURCESAT and CARTOSAT as unique. The RESOURCESAT gives multi-spectral camera images. It has a wide area coverage of up to 600 km at a time. So that can be used for monitoring the disasters as they occur. The CARTOSAT has an optical camera that can take high-resolution images. So these satellite constellations can definitely contribute to disaster management. Soon we will have a radar-imaging satellite of our own, which will provide an opportunity to look through the clouds, and enable day and night observation of disaster-prone areas.

India has a very rich and vibrant space program through which we are trying to use earth-observation satellites and communication satellites for various societal needs. But at the same time, many of our neighbors are not equally privileged with respect to resources in the space technology field. And when JAXA came out with the idea of having a disaster management support system, the Sentinel Asia program, we thought it a very noble cause and thought we should join hands with Japan in trying to evolve a common database to deal with disasters in other Asian countries. So this is a very good moment for India to make international contributions, and we hope this will be a very good example of international cooperation.

We hope to contribute to Sentinel Asia, not only by providing satellite data, but also in creating a database. This will provide, as well as remote sensing images, additional data on social parameters, distinguishing between urban areas, farmlands, woodlands and infrastructure such as roads. This information should be useful for medical teams working in disaster-hit areas. So by creating a big database for the whole Asian region, we hope to be able to send out warnings as well as disaster-management supports in emergency situations.

Communication plays a very important role, too. If we have satellites covering the area, we can use mobile communication systems. That could be one of the next steps India can take to make further contributions. Another important task is capacity-building. Training of the people in this region also becomes important. We already have the United Nations school for the Asia-Pacific region here in Dehradun, in northern India [the Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific]. And that school can play a major role in training people in disaster management using space assets. Like this, India hopes to contribute in many ways to the Sentinel Asia project.

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