How NavIC aims to become a global navigation tool

May 31, 2023 06:24 PM IST

In its present status, NavIC is competing with QZSS from Japan, which also targets only the Japanese and neighbouring regions.

New Delhi The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) on Monday launched NVS-01, the first second-generation navigation satellite series, NavIC or NAVigation with the Indian Constellation — ostensibly India’s answer to Global Positioning System (GPS).

NavIC is an independent stand-alone navigation satellite system. (ANI) PREMIUM
NavIC is an independent stand-alone navigation satellite system. (ANI)

While NavIC is an independent stand-alone navigation satellite system, currently operating on a regional scale, the Indian government has clarified its stand on developing it as a global satellite navigation system, on par with the US’s GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, Europe’s Galileo and China’s BeiDou, in coming years.

In its present status, NavIC is competing with QZSS from Japan, which also targets only the Japanese and neighbouring regions.

South Korea, which currently uses GPS, is also working to construct a satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS), which could help in accelerating the development of self-driving technology such as autonomous vehicles and drones in that country. Because of its strict security policies of mapping data and its strained political relations with its neighbouring country, North Korea, South Korea has not allowed Google to store its locational data on a foreign server, thus restricting the use of Google Maps in the country.

Also Read: ‘Chandrayaan-3 to be launched in July’: ISRO chief

Even though South Korea has local mapping services including Naver, Kakao, and T Map for regional navigation, these are often not very tourist friendly since they are primarily in Korean language. But South Korea aims to establish its own navigation service by 2035, further reducing positioning errors to the centimetre level.

What is NavIC?

To meet positioning, navigation and timing requirements of India, Isro established a regional navigation satellite system called NavIC, earlier known as the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS).

NavIC is designed with a constellation of eight satellites and a network of ground stations operating 24X7. Three of these satellites are located in the geostationary orbit at approximately 22,000 miles above the earth’s surface and five in the geosynchronous orbit. In the case of a global navigation satellite system, the satellites have to be constantly moving across the globe.

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NavIC has a ground network consisting of a control centre, precise timing facility, range and integrity monitoring stations, and two-way ranging stations. It is signalled using dual frequency in the L5 (at 1,176.45 MHz) and S (at 2,492.028 MHz) bands of the microwave spectrum. GPS, however, uses a single frequency band. NavIC, therefore, provides better positioning accuracy of nearly 10 metres throughout the Indian landmass, as compared to the GPS’s accuracy of 20 metres.

NavIC, which was originally cleared in 2006 with a budget of $174 million, was made operational in 2018 after a delay of nearly seven years.

Since 2018, NaVIC has been in operation.

Why NavIC over global competitors?

A senior Isro official explained that GPS and GLONASS, which are both global navigation systems being used in the world, are operated by the defence agencies of the US and Russia, respectively. Thus, there is a possibility that the civilian service can be degraded or denied at any given time. For instance, during the 1999 Kargil War, the Indian government requested the US to provide enemy locations, but this request was denied. If India had its own navigation system back then, there would have been no need to depend on another country for such information.

“NavIC is an independent regional system over the Indian region and does not depend on other systems for providing a position service within the service region. It is fully under the control of the Government of India,” the official said.

The official said that a new civilian signal has also been introduced in the L1 band (1,575.42 MHz), which will make it compatible for civilian navigation services. The NavIC L1 signal is also interoperable with the other GNSS (global navigation satellite system) signals. All forthcoming — from 2023 — NavIC satellites will broadcast SPS signals in the L1, L5 and S bands. This will help improve its application in the fields of transportation (land, water and air), location-based services, personal mobility, resource monitoring, surveying and geodesy, scientific research and safety-of-life alert dissemination.

To expand reach, the government has directed all mobile phone manufacturers to make their new devices compatible with NavIC from January 2023.

Though this is not a strict deadline, mobile manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, etc. will have to redesign hardware and software of their phones to comply with and accommodate Indian and other global positioning systems. The official, however, added that realistically, they expect manufacturers to make devices compatible by 2025.

Qualcomm has already launched three chipsets (Snapdragon 720G, 662, and 460) that support NavIC.

“In the years to come, we are hoping that most areas where navigation services are used, including food delivery apps, courier services, gaming services and insurance services, will all use our indigenous navigation service, instead of relying on services from other countries,” the Isro official said.

Rohan Verma, CEO and executive director of MapmyIndia, an Indian technology company that builds digital map data, telematics services, location-based SaaS and GIS AI technologies, said that Isro’s move to develop India’s very own navigation system is a big step towards its “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” goals (the government’s self-reliant India campaign).

“India’s indigenous and Aatmanirbhar location positioning (PNT) signal satellite system will get stronger by Monday’s NVS-01 launch. We are proud at MapmyIndia to support NavIC-based IoT devices and also build NavIC-based applications,” Verma said.

Future plans for NavIC

Isro chairman S Somanath said the agency’s ultimate aim with NavIC is to make it a global navigation system. However, to achieve that goal, the space agency will have to place more satellites in an orbit closer that the current constellation.

“Currently, NavIC’s reach is only 1,500km beyond Indian territory. But for our ships and airplanes travelling beyond that we will need satellites in medium earth orbit (MEO). So, to make this a global system, we can keep adding MEO satellites. This is the goal,” he said.

Currently, NavIC satellites orbit the earth in a geostationary or geosynchronous (GEO) orbit, or about 36,000km from the earth. MEO orbits occupy a space between GEO and low-earth orbit (LEO), or about 250-2,000km from the earth.

Monday’s launch, which placed the new NVS-01 satellite into orbit, and all its later versions will also ensure that even the less sophisticated, consumer-grade gadgets such as smartwatches can pick up the L1 signal, to increase civilian use.

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    Soumya Pillai covers environment and traffic in Delhi. A journalist for three years, she has grown up in and with Delhi, which is often reflected in the stories she does about life in the city. She also enjoys writing on social innovations.

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