In Business & Security, Sky Isn’t The Limit For GAGAN

Context: Recently, an IndiGo ATR aircraft landed at Kishangarh Airport in Rajasthan using GAGAN, India’s own Space-Based Augmented System (SBAS).

Why this is a significant achievement for India?

Though only a trial, the landing was a significant achievement that could allow aircraft to operate in poor weather conditions at smaller airports that lack expensive instrumentation.

The landing was also a rare demonstration of how the US Global Positioning System (GPS) could be augmented for use in critical ‘safety of life’ applications like aviation.

More significantly, GAGAN shows the profound effects that satellite navigation has had on both commercial and military undertakings. As satellite navigation matures, these effects are only likely to deepen and thus influence India’s own relative power in the world.

What is GAGAN?

GAGAN is an acronym for GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation, and its infrastructure reaches from earth to space.

On earth, reference stations receive American GPS signals that are then collated and corrected for ionospheric distortions and other errors.

The corrected signal is then broadcast from three Indian geostationary satellites, providing a more accurate and reliable service for aircraft.

What are the augmented systems already in place around the world?

Utility of augmented systems

Besides guiding aircraft, these augmented systems could help ships navigate narrow waterways, assist the coordination of train routes, and manage traffic jams on highways.

Augmented systems around the world

GAGAN is only one of many augmented systems already in place or being developed around the world.

The WAAS system covers North America, while EGNOS covers Europe.

China is developing its own system based on the BeiDou constellation of navigation satellites. As China’s reliance on BeiDou indicates, spacefaring states are setting up their own constellations. BeiDou is the most ambitious of these, with a constellation of 45 satellites providing global coverage. Europe’s Galileo has 24 satellites and Russia’s GLONASS, 23.

The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), also known as NavIC, consists of just seven satellites and provides services in India and its neighbourhood. Together, these satellite services complement GPS, providing better coverage in some regions. However, they also compete with GPS, providing users with viable alternatives and eroding what was effectively an American monopoly.

Why India has struggled with NavIC?

India has struggled to get civilian users on NavIC. A major reason for this was the lack of chipsets that could receive NavIC signals on mobile phones or vehicles.

This prompted ISRO to reach out to chipmakers like Broadcom and Qualcomm. Mobile phone manufacturers have also begun to provide NavIC support.

The government has even made it mandatory for public and commercial vehicles in India to carry NavIC-based trackers.

Why indigenous navigation systems are a necessity?

National security: In times of crisis, other states could choose to deny such services, wreaking havoc on both businesses and military operations. Indeed, satellite navigation cannot be separated from its military utility.

In 1999, the US denied India the use of GPS to help fight Pakistani intruders in Kargil, a decision that sparked India’s efforts to build its own navigation system.

Way forward

In the coming decades, competition over satellite navigation is likely to intensify as states improve their own capabilities and try to deny them to adversaries.

Source: This post is based on the article “In Business & Security, Sky Isn’t The Limit For GAGAN” published in The Times of India on 8th May 22.

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