Last year in 2016, ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) launched the final satellite, IRNSS-1G, to complete the constellation of seven satellites. This constellation of satellites will enable India to have its very own indigenous navigation satellite system with an operational name NaVIC. NaVIC will be fully operational by early 2018.

But how many of you know that GPS (Global Positioning System) is a USA proprietary navigational system? I am sure, not many!

Moreover, GPS is just a naming convention used by USA government for global navigation satellite system (GNSS). We talk about technology advancement in the 21st century, but the biggest irony is that many nations, including India, are still at the mercy of USA when it comes to navigational requirements.

What is IRNSS aka NAVIC?

IRNSS is the abbreviation for Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System. It is India’s autonomous navigation satellite system developed by Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). IRNSS consists of total seven satellites out of which four of them are in Geosynchronous orbit (GSO) and three are in Geostationary orbit (GEO).

irnss g navic space craft integrated with pslv

Image credit: ISRO

Soon after the launch of the seventh final satellite in 2016, Indian prime minister Mr Narendra Modi announced the name of India’s navigational system as NaVIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation).

Why did India feel the need of indigenous GPS system?

Any typical satellite navigation system works in two modes as the civilian and restricted mode. The civilian mode is accessible to common people whereas restricted mode is the encrypted mode which is only meant for military access by parent country.

During Kargil War in 1999, USA denied help to Indian military with restricted mode data access to real-time navigational data. Indian government felt helpless and jolted by this limited access to real-time navigational data. This incident led to the germination of India’s very own navigation satellite system.

Also, modern warfare includes sophisticated military weapons such as guided missiles, missile defence systems, etc., which mostly requires information from navigation satellites. It is imprudent to depend on some other countries navigation system in situations like wartime, infiltrations, hostile situations, etc.

Which all countries have their navigational system?

There are only handful of five countries having the autonomous navigational system including India.

Here is the list of five countries having global navigation satellite system (GNSS):

IRNSS or NaVIC: As told before, India’s navigation system, NaVIC, will be fully operational by early 2018. NaVIC will not have 100% global access as it is limited to 1500 km region from India’s boundary.

GPS: USA government owns global positioning system (GPS). GPS was also formerly known as Navstar GPS. GPS was the first navigational system to have 100% global access.

If you remember, USA killed it’s most wanted terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, in the year 2011 after monitoring his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan for more than a year. This monitoring was only possible because of real-time GPS navigation system.

BeiDou: BeiDou is China’s navigational system which has been in operation, serving Asia-Pacific region, since 2011. China started BeiDou limited version sometime in 2000.

China is working on a full-fledged version of the global navigation system, with 100% global access, and expect to complete it by the year 2020.

GLONASS-K: Russia owns GLONASS-K. GLONASS-K is the most upgraded version of GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System). GLONASS-K is only 2nd navigation system after GPS to have 100% global access. Russia achieved this feat sometime in 2011.

Galileo: The European Union created Galileo through European Space Agency. Before Galileo, European nations were dependent on Russian navigational system GLONASS. Galileo has been in Early Operational Capability (EOC) since 2016 and is expected to reach Full Operational Capability by 2019.

IRNSS application

You have already seen how IRNSS will help India strengthening its military and defence capabilities. Apart from this IRNSS will also help in areas like:

  • General map and navigation (Google Map)
  • Terrestrial, Aerial and Marine Navigation
  • Terrestrial navigation to help hikers and travellers
  • Disaster management
  • Precise Timing

Coverage of IRNSS

As if now IRNSS is designed to cater in India and around India up to 1500 km from its boundary. Below picture depicts the approximate coverage by IRNSS.

IRNSS NAVIC Coverage

Image credit: Wikipedia

What will be the precision or accuracy?

ISRO has claimed that IRNSS will be more accurate than GPS. As if now, GPS has a position accuracy of around 20-30 meters whereas IRNSS will provide position accuracy of 10 meters within Indian geography and 20 meters in the region extending up to 1500 km around India.

There is a functional as well as a technological difference between IRNSS and GPS. NaVIC has the capability to work in dual frequency bands (S and L). Whereas, GPS only works on L band. GPS model is based on the atmospheric model to evaluate frequency error in a timely fashion to assess exact error. NaVIC does not have to follow any model to find the frequency error as it works by measuring the difference in delay of dual frequency bands (S and L).

Key take away

It is an indeed proud moment for India by having its autonomous navigation satellite system IRNSS. Very soon, Indian people will have a more accurate navigational system on their smartphone or personal navigational device.

Indian military will now be reinforced with additional help from real-time navigational capabilities of NaVIC. Also, NaVIC will send a strong message of caution to all neighbouring countries which have been involved in the past in numerous infiltrations.