NEW DELHI: The work on the long-awaited Indo-American project on the world’s most expensive earth observation satellite NISAR has been completed after nine years as the dual-band payload will be flagged off from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the US for India on February 1. The 2,800 kg satellite is scheduled to be launched from Sriharikota in September this year.

“The payload will be flagged off from JPL (California) for India by Isro chairman S Somanath on February 1. The payload will be flown to Isro’s centre (U R Rao Satellite Centre) in Bengaluru where it will be integrated with the satellite. The assembled satellite will then be sent to Sriharikota and the launch is scheduled in September,” a source in Isro told TOI.

The estimated $1.5 billion NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) “mission will measure the Earth’s changing ecosystems, dynamic surfaces and ice sheet collapses, providing information about biomass, sea level rise, groundwater and natural hazards, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides”, said Nasa. With its launch, it will become easier for Isro to study land subsidence like in Joshimath and quake-prone regions.

Nine years ago, Isro and Nasa had joined hands to build the dual-frequency satellite after signing a contract on September 30, 2014. On March 4, 2021, Isro sent its S-band SAR payload developed in India to Nasa’s JPL for integration with the US-built L-band.

Once launched in September, the satellite will observe Earth’s land and ice-covered surfaces globally with 12-day regularity, sampling the planet on average every six days, Nasa said. It will use its advanced radar imaging to map the elevation of land and ice masses four to six times a month and will have a mission life of minimum three years. NISAR employs a futuristic SweepSAR technique, which will help it cover a wide swath of more than 200 km and very high resolution of the order of 5-10 metre.

Data collected from NISAR will also reveal information about the evolution and state of the Earth’s crust, help scientists better understand the planet’s natural processes and changing climate, and aid future resource and natural hazard management.

Under the terms of the 2014 agreement, Nasa is providing the mission’s L-band SAR, a high-rate telecommunication subsystem for scientific data GPS receivers, a solid-state recorder and a payload data subsystem. Isro, on the other hand, is providing the satellite bus, an S-band SAR, launch vehicle (GSLV Mk II), and associated launch services. As per a statement of Department of Space in 2017, the total cost of the project included Isro’s work share cost of about Rs 788 crore ($97 million) and the cost of JPL’s work share of about $808 million. However, the cost of the project, as per some reports, has skyrocketed by several millions during the nine years of development of the payload.

Though Isro and Nasa had earlier collaborated on several space missions like Chandrayaan that discovered water on Moon, this is the first big joint project of India and the US in the satellite segment.

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