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Record-breaking PSLV mission has a downside: Ex-ISRO chief



G Madhavan Nair

Bengaluru, Feb 26 : Buried in the flood of congratulatory messages that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) received after its recent space feat is one discordant note raising some concern.

It is from none other than G. Madhavan Nair, the former chairman of the country’s premier space body. Nair, during whose term the agency launched the Chandrayaan mission to the Moon, feels ISRO’s latest Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) mission potentially has some hidden dangers to its own space assets.

On February 15, a PSLV released a flock of over 100 nano- and micro-satellites of overseas customers for a fee. Of them, 88 satellites called “Doves” belonged to Planet, a San Francisco-based startup. All these tiny satellites, each smaller than a briefcase, were lobbed into a polar orbit 506 km above the Earth by the PSLV in a flawless mission.

“I am somewhat concerned because the region where so many of these objects have been placed is the same where our own Earth observation satellites are, or will be,” Nair told this correspondent over the phone.

The nano-satellites, Nair pointed out, have a short useful life after which they become junk that will keep floating in space for years in the same orbit with chances of colliding with ISRO’s operational satellites sharing the same space.

“The debris that these nano-satellites will leave after their brief existence in space are potential source of damage to us. Safety of our satellites is more important,” Nair maintained.

He cautioned that ISRO should carefully weigh a few million dollars of commercial gain from launching foreign nano-satellites into 500-km orbits against the potential harm to the present and future Earth observation satellites close to their lanes.

He also noted that in case of a future collision between the debris from any of these nano-satellites and a working satellite belonging to another country, India will have to pay for the damages. “Therefore, I do not know if we should do it,” he said.

Nair was referring to the Space Liability Convention that entered into force in 1972, under which launching countries “should bear international responsibility” for all space objects launched from their territory “regardless of to whom the space object belongs”.

Nair said that in his view, short-lived nano-satellites, if launched, should be put in much lower orbits — below the operational region of remote sensing satellites. Any junk formed in such low-earth orbits will descend to Earth due to atmospheric drag and pose no problem to the working satellites.

“Also, this issue should be raised in the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in order to arrive at a designated corridor for small and nano-satellites.”

ISRO is a member of Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) which coordinates global efforts to reduce man-made and natural space debris by sharing research and identifying debris mitigation options.

While ISRO spokesman Deviprasad Karnik said his agency has “no comments” to offer to the concerns raised by the agency’s former chairman, Planet spokesperson Rachel Holm dismissed any danger to ISRO’s operating satellites as feared by Nair.

“At Planet, we designed our concept of operations with debris mitigation in mind,” the company said in an email. “Our Doves fly at a self-cleaning orbit. After 3-5 years, gravity pulls our satellites down into Earth’s atmosphere where they burn up completely.”

Nair’s concerns have, however, been echoed by space debris experts in different forums.

At a recent International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, Hugh Lewis, a leading space debris expert from the University of Southampton, said that since 2005, CubeSats have been involved in more than 360,000 close encounters, “many of these in Sun-synchronous orbits that are popular with remote sensing and Earth science satellites”.

Lewis had warned that if CubeSats continue to be launched into long-lived orbits without any means of disposing them of, “they will contribute to the growing space debris hazard”.

In 2014, the International Space Station had to move three times to avoid lethal chunks of space debris and, only a month ago, European Space Agency had reported that its Swarm-B satellite had a miraculous escape from space debris that came as close as 361 metres.

Experts predict that satellites — just like drones — are increasingly coming within reach of ordinary people. As the cost of getting them in orbit plummets, the risks of collisions in space “will grow,” says a recent report from the US National Academy of Sciences.

By : K.S. Jayaraman

(K.S. Jayaraman can be contacted at [email protected])


Rape Case: No relief for Asaram, as SC adjourns hearing on bail plea by nine weeks



New Delhi 22: Supreme court on Monday adjourned the hearing on the bail plea of Asaram by nine weeks and said it will taken it up after the trial court examine the victim.

The Gujarat government told the apex court that the victim in a rape case involving self-styled preacher Asaram Bapu will be examined from January 29.

A Bench of Justices N.V. Ramana and A.M. Sapre, which was initially inclined to reject the bail plea, stated the petitioner can easily approach after the victim is examined.

On January 15, the court sought to know the status of trial in a rape case involving Asaram and asked the Gujarat government to file a progress report on it.

Asaram’s lawyer had then told the court that in the Gujarat case, out of 92 witnesses, 22 material witnesses have been examined, 14 of them are dropped and rest yet to be examined.

The two Surat-based sisters had registered separate complaints against Asaram and his son Narayan Sai, accusing them of rape and illegal confinement among other charges.

While elder sister, in her complaint against Asaram, had accused him of repeated sexual assaults between 2001 and 2006 when she was staying at his ashram near Ahmedabad.

In the case in Rajasthan, a teenage girl had accused him of sexual assault at his ashram in Manai village near Jodhpur.

The girl, who hailed to Uttar Pradesh’s Shahjahanpur, was a student living in the ashram.

Asaram was held by Jodhpur Police on August 31, 2013 and has been in jail since then.


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Modi Has ‘Ego of His Prime Ministership’, says Anna Hazare



Mumbai, Jan 22: Social activist Anna Hazare has alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an “ego of his prime ministership” and claimed it was the reason why the prime minister didn’t respond to his letters.

While addressing  a public rally in Atpadi tehsil in Maharashtra’s Sangli district, said “I have written more than 30 letters to PM Modi in the last three years but he never replied to them. Modi has an ego of his Prime Ministership, hence he did not respond to my letters”.

Earlier, Anti-corruption crusader had announced that he was going to stage another round of protests in New Delhi, starting from March 23.

“It will be a never-seen-before kind of massive agitation that will be a warning to the government,” he asserted.

“I have no intention of garnering votes through my rallies and agitations. The way there was a huge rally for Jan Lokpal, I believe there will be a similar agitation on farmers’ issues.”

Hazare stated that his demands include implementation of the Lokpal, appointment of a Lokayukta, a pension of Rs. 5,000 to farmers and higher rates for farm produce.


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Nearly 4% of GDP is lost due to malnutrition: Report




New Delhi, Jan 22: India loses about 4 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) to malnutrition and the trend can be reversed by focusing “on production diversity as well as food fortification at a macro level”, a research paper revealed on Sunday.

According to a joint paper published by industry body Assocham and consultancy firm EY, nearly four per cent of the GDP is lost due to different forms of malnutrition and that “women and children deserve a better deal in expenditure outlay”.

The report outlined that the country hosts 50 per cent of the world’s under-nourished children.

The paper quoted data from the National Family Health Survey-4 which showed that close to 60 per cent of children aged between 6 and 59 months are anaemic.

“It is only about 10 per cent of the country’s total children who are receiving adequate diet,” the research report said.

“The women and girl child, for whom the NDA Government has launched flagship programmes, are no better in terms of their daily nutrition intake. About 55 per cent of non-pregnant women and 58 per cent of pregnant women aged between 15-49 years are anaemic.”

Commenting upon the finding, Assocham’s Secretary General D.S. Rawat said the government needs to pursue policies which “focus on removing health and social inequities. Programmes and policies that aim to address the nutrition burden present a double-win situation”.

On the remedy-front, the paper said that in order to cater to the large unmet needs of micro-nutrients, “it is imperative to focus on production diversity as well as food fortification at a macro level”.

“For instance, millets are three to five times more nutritious than rice and wheat in terms of proteins, minerals and vitamins. They are cost effective crops as well; yet considered as poor people’s crop while rice and wheat are preferred over them,” the paper noted.

“Millets are rich in Vitamin B, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc and are gluten-free. They are suitable for people with gluten allergies or those with high blood sugar levels.”


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