India got its own global positioning system or GPS module in November 2020. Called UTraQ, the module gets feeds from India Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS). IRNSS is an independent, indigenously developed satellite navigation system fully planned, established and controlled by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
India’s GPS hit a new milestone in December 2020. The Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC) entered the league with the US, China and Russia as a recognised component of the World-Wide Radio Navigation System (WWRNS). Then, two weeks ago, Indians started a meme fest as soon as ISRO and MapMyIndia announced their collaboration to create an alternative version of Google Maps.
ISRO’s Department of Space (DoS) entered into an MoU with geospatial technology company CE Info Systems Private Limited, that owns MapmyIndia, on Thursday. According to Bengaluru-headquartered ISRO, through this partnership, the combined geospatial expertise of the DoS and CE Info Systems would be put into use through their respective Geoportals.
The two teams will jointly identify and build geospatial solutions, utilising the earth observation data collected by NavIC, Web Services and APIs (application programming interface) available in MapMyIndia, MOSDAC, VEDAS, and Bhuvan geoportals.
The announcement came as India rolled out local alternatives to Twitter and WhatsApp in lieu of challenges posed by the social media behemoths, which were creating false narrative, social media frenzy and Red Fort havoc during the 26 January mayhem in the Kisan Tractor rally in New Delhi
The new project was announced by ISRO and MapMyIndia late on 12 February. The two have not yet specified any timeframe within which the service might arrive, nor revealed what it will be called.
The ISRO said the collaboration would enable them to jointly identify and build holistic geospatial solutions utilising earth observation datasets. MapMyIndia was even bolder about the prospects of the joint project, with the company’s CEO Rohan Verma promising the service would “be a much better, more detailed and comprehensive, as well as privacy ― centric, hyper ― local and indigenous mapping solution for the Indians, compared to foreign map apps.”
“MapMyIndia, being a responsible, local Indian company, ensures that its maps reflect the true sovereignty of the country, depicting India’s borders as per the Government of India, and hosts its maps in India,” Verma stated in a LinkedIn post.
The announcement comes within days of India’s rolling – out of local alternatives to Twitter and WhatsApp, named Koo and Sandes, respectively. The development of homegrown applications is part of the Nations drive to become self – reliant in the digital world. It’s worth pondering that China has its own social media space and is controlled by the CCP.
The project by ISRO and MapMyIndia has been welcomed by a section of social media users while others have mocked the exercise, citing challenges Google Maps faced while trying to perfect its GPS in India. The efficacy of GPS depends a lot on the concentration of mobile signals whereas the presence of towers emitting the electromagnetic waves have met with vehement protests from activists who forced government to direct mobile service providers to uninstall the facilities, thus affecting Google Maps’ GPS too.
In this scenario, the Indian GPS is covering the country and a region extending 1,500 km around it, with plans for further extension. An extended service area lies between the primary service area and a rectangle area enclosed by the 30th parallel south to the 50th parallel north and the 30th meridian east to the 130th meridian east, 1,500–6,000 km beyond borders. The system currently consists of a constellation of seven satellites, with two additional satellites on ground as stand-by.
There are plans to expand the NavIC GPS system by increasing its constellation size from 7 to 11.
Past failures of Indian GPS
In 2017, it was announced that all three SpectraTime supplied rubidium atomic clocks on board IRNSS-1A had failed, mirroring similar failures in the European Union’s Galileo constellation. The first failure occurred in July 2016, followed soon after by the two other clocks on IRNSS-1A. This rendered the satellite non-functional and required replacement. ISRO reported it had replaced the atomic clocks in the two standby satellites, IRNSS-1H and IRNSS-1I., in June 2017. The subsequent launch of IRNSS-1H, as a replacement for IRNSS-1A, was unsuccessful when PSLV-C39 mission failed on 31 August 2017. The second standby satellite, IRNSS-1I, was successfully placed into orbit on 12 April 2018.
In July 2017, it was reported that two more clocks in the navigational system had also started showing signs of abnormality, thereby taking the total number of failed clocks to five, in May 2018 a failure of a further 4 clocks was reported, taking the count to 9 of the 24 in orbit.