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16 February 2017 Editorial


16 FEBRUARY 2017

ISRO sets the bar high

UPDATED: FEBRUARY 16, 2017 00:02 IST

The Indian Space Research Organisation boosted its reputation further when it successfully launched a record 104 satellites in one mission from Sriharikota esday by relying on its workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket. An earth observation Cartosat-2 series (Cartosat-2D) satellite and two other nano satellites were the only Indian satellites launched: the remaining were from the United States, Israel, the UAE, the Netherlands, Kazakhstan and Switzerland. Of the 101 foreign satellites launched, 96 were from the U.S. and one each from the other five countries. Till now Russia held the record of launching 37 satellites in a single mission, in 2014, while the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the U.S. launched 29 satellites in one go in 2013. Last June, ISRO had come close to NASA’s record by launching 20 satellites in one mission. But ISRO views the launch not as a mission to set a world record but as an opportunity to make full use of the capacity of the launch vehicle. The launch is particularly significant as ISRO now cements its position as a key player in the lucrative commercial space launch market by providing a cheaper yet highly reliable alternative. At an orbital altitude of around 500 km, the vehicle takes about 90 minutes to complete one orbit. Though ISRO had sufficient time to put the satellites into orbit, it accomplished the task in about 12 minutes. With the focus on ensuring that no two satellites collided with each other, the satellites were injected in pairs in opposite directions. Successive pairs of satellites were launched once the vehicle rotated by a few degrees, thereby changing the separation angle and time of separation to prevent any collision.

ISRO plans to launch more Cartosat-2 series satellites and even an improved version. Besides setting the record for the most number of satellites launched in a single mission, the Indian space agency has launched two nano satellites weighing less than 10 kg. It is a technology demonstrator for a new class of satellites called ISRO nano satellites (INS). The main objective of the INS, which will be launched together with bigger satellites, is to provide a platform on which payloads up to 5 kg from universities and R&D laboratories, and ISRO itself can be easily integrated for carrying out scientific research activities. With many Indian universities already building and launching nano satellites, the availability of a dedicated nano satellites platform is sure to boost space research in India.






The foul air we breathe

A new international report has drawn attention to the deadly pollutants that pervade the air that people breathe in India, causing terrible illness and premature death. The State of Global Air 2017 study, conducted jointly by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, quantifies further what has been reported for some time now: that the concentration of the most significant inhalable pollutant, fine particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less (PM2.5), has been growing in India. The rise in average annual population-weighted PM2.5 levels indicates that the Centre’s initiatives to help States reduce the burning of agricultural biomass and coal in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi have failed. The directions of the National Green Tribunal to Delhi, which were reviewed last year, could not end open burning of garbage and straw, or curb the urban use of diesel-powered vehicles. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the weighted national PM2.5 level estimated in the international report rose from 60 micrograms per cubic metre in 1990 (the acceptable limit) to 74 in 2015, with a steady rise since 2011. Weak policy on pollution is leading to the premature death of an estimated 1.1 million Indians annually, and the number is growing, in contrast to China’s record of reducing such mortality.

Several studies show long-term evidence of a steady deterioration in air quality in many countries, and South Asia, dominated by India, is today among the worst places to live. Although the central role played by burning of crop residues in causing pollution is well-known, and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute proposed steps to convert the waste into useful products such as enriched fodder, biogas, biofuel, compost and so on, little progress has been made. Last year, helpless farmers in the northern States who wanted to quickly switch from rice to wheat burnt the waste in the fields, in some cases defying local prohibitory orders. The government has no one to blame but itself, since it has not been able to supply affordable seeder machinery in sufficient numbers to eliminate the need to remove the straw. In a country producing about 500 million tonnes of crop residues annually, the issue needs to be addressed in mission mode. Easy access to cheap solar cookers and biogas plants will also cut open burning, and help the rural economy. Yet, there is no reliable distribution mechanism for these. On the health front, it is a matter of concern that in the most polluted cities, even moderate physical activity could prove harmful, rather than be beneficial, as new research indicates. India’s clean-up priorities need to shift gear urgently, covering both farm and city.




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