Desi GPS: Space Application Centre lacks priority at great cost to the nation

Lalit Shastri

The successful launching of a series of satellites in India’s ambitious navigation satellites system (NavIC) by ISRO notwithstanding, those running and administering India’s space programme owe an explanation to the nation and they will have to tell the people of this country why there has been so much delay in making the desi GPS a reality.

Two years ago, the launch of IRNSS-1G by ISRO – the seventh satellite in India’s navigation system – was heralded as historic and a big leap for the country that’s looking forward to having its very own GPS.

More than a year after the IRNSS-1G was placed in orbit, prominent Indian newspapers went into the overdrive mode and published news items to announce that the wait is over and the much publicised “desi GPS” (Indian GPS) was just round the corner.

Here is a snapshot of that news coverage:

GPS: Desi GPS to become a reality soon | The Economic Times, Aug 4, 2017

“An indigenous desi GPS system may become a reality soon as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to sign an MoU with CSIR-National Physical Laboratory (NPL) for time and frequency traceability services. Desi GPS on its way.”

The time is right: India moves closer to a ‘desi’ GPS | Business Line, Aug 4, 2017

“The time is right: India moves closer to a ‘desi’ GPS.  The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System can be used for accurate positional information services”

ISRO to offer desi gps for mobile users | New Indian Express, July 9, 2017

“Not deterred by the malfunctioning of one of the NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation) satellites, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is getting set for commercial roll out of ‘desi’ GPS in the second quarter of next year.”


Wary of reports based on ISRO handouts and zero follow up on these by Indian media houses, Newsroom24x7 did a progress check. Our findings leave nothing for the public to be euphoric about. In fact most of what has been churned out as news amounts to creating a hyperbole and there is very little surfacing in terms of the exact ground situation. With everyone occupied full time on social media with posts that have gone viral about Nirav Modi, the absocnder and the PNB scam and how the BJP took the wind out of the Congress sail in the just concluded elections in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, no body is asking what has happened to the Desi GPS.

Newsroom24x7 Report

India spent Rs. 2000 crore on a series of navigation satellites (NavIC). One failed and a replacement had a launch failure. They are reaching end of life after 5 yrs and 5 more are to go. The much touted desi GPS has nothing on the ground – neither in terms of civil or military applications and use. The crux of the problem is that ISRO went full steam ahead and started launching the satellites in the Indian navigation system in quick succession, without bothering to ensure the chipsets required for ground support also developed simultaneously to roll out the services. This is more merely a lapse but has led to criminal waste of public money. Those responsible will have to be identified and held accountable.

Gsat 19 high throughput ka band satellite launched last year is also sitting idle without ground segment. Now GSAT – 11 is being launched in July from French Guyana with a tag of Rs. 2000 crore, including launch cost, It will also be idle for want of ground segment which will take another 24-months before its is fully operational.

It is important for the less informed to know that there are 2 types of ground segment. One for housekeeping and orbit maintainence and the other is to provide the services from the satellite system.

The second ground segment in NavIC, along with the chipsets for the hand held devices and ground receivers for civilian and military use are nowhere ready, except a few receivers that were imported and used for trials. Due to security reasons, the imported receivers cannot be used by the defence forces. This is one major shortfall as the Space Applications Center ( SAC) has failed to deliver.

The Transport ministry has an ambitious plan of rolling out public transport tracking using this device. Even the fishermen on the coast are supposed to use this for locational accuracy, ships, and also those on forest beat in inaccessible areas. The list of those who can benefit from this system is endless.

GSAT-19 and GSAT-11 is meant for high speed Internet connectivity in rural areas. The ground system for reception and distribution called gateways are not in place. GSAT-19 is idling for 1 year now and GSAT-11,when it goes will be idle for 2 years and use GSAT–19's gateway when it's ready impacting both satellites. Bharat net and national optical fibre net nofen are PM Modi's pet projects. Beside,the first set of satellites is reaching end of life in NavIC. Its Design life is 7 years but may.operate a year or two extra.

ISRO Reference:

Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), named NavIC by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is an independent Indian Satellite based positioning system meant for critical National applications. The main objective of NavIC is to provide Reliable Position, Navigation and Timing services over India and its neighbourhood, to provide fairly good accuracy to the user. The IRNSS will provide basically two types of services

Standard Positioning Service (SPS) and Restricted Service (RS)

Space Segment consists of seven satellites, three satellites in GEO stationary orbit (GEO) and four satellites in Geo Synchronous Orbit (GSO) orbit with inclination of 29° to the equatorial plane. This constellation of seven satellites was named as “NavIC” (Navigation with Indian Constellation) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was dedicated to the Nation on the occasion of successful launch of IRNSS-1G, the seventh and last satellite of NavIC.

The seven Satellites of NavIC – IRNSS-1A, 1B, 1C, ID,1E, 1F and 1G – were launched on July 02, 2013, Apr 04, 2014, Oct 16, 2014, Mar 28, 2015, Jan 20, 2016, Mar 10, 2016 and Apr 28, 2016 respectively.


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