ISRO’s Resourcesat-2 Expected To Boost Antrix Imagery Sales

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BANGALORE, India — Two new remote sensing satellites, the recently launched Resourcesat-2 and the forthcoming Risat radar imaging craft, are expected to generate increased sales for India’s government-owned commercial space company, which has seen declining profitability in recent years.

Antrix Corp., the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), draws $20 million to $25 million, or about 10 percent of its annual revenue, from its remote sensing business. Antrix, based here, also sells satellite hardware and services including telecommunications and satellite launches.

“The market is eagerly waiting for commercial availability of Resourcesat-2 data,” Antrix said in a statement provided to Space News.

Resourcesat-2 was launched April 20 along with a pair of small satellites aboard an ISRO-supplied Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The satellite, a follow-on to Resourcesat-1 launched in 2003, is still undergoing on-orbit checkout, but its cameras were activated April 28, with initial images presented May 9 to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

ISRO currently operates 10 remote sensing satellites for government applications including resource management and exploration, ocean monitoring, mapping and defense. ISRO’s National Remote Sensing Centre in Hyderabad is responsible for downlinking and distributing the data domestically; Antrix is responsible for foreign commercial sales.

“Currently imagery from Resourcesat-1, Cartosat-1, Cartosat-2, Oceansat-2 and multi-spectral data [from the] Indian Mini Satellite are marketed commercially to national and international users,” ISRO spokesman S. Satish told Space News May 16. Data from Resourcesat-2 “will also be marketed commercially in continuation of Resourcesat-1,” he said.

India plans to add radar data to its mix of commercial remote sensing offerings following the launch of the C-band Risat-1 satellite, now scheduled for October. India already has a radar satellite on orbit, Risat-2, but data are for government use only, according to Satish.

Antrix began international marketing of data from ISRO’s remote sensing satellites during the 1990s through an arrangement with a U.S. company, Eosat, which also had distribution rights to imagery from the U.S. government-owned Landsat satellites. After that deal expired, Antrix set out on its own in 2008, using sales vehicles including direct downlink services outside of India and international reseller agreements, the company said.

The United States was Antrix’s first international market for remote sensing data, and the company’s reach has since expanded into Europe, China, Australia, Africa and Latin America, Antrix said in its statement. “Antrix has now reached a network of 22 International Ground Stations across the globe and 20 international resellers,” the statement said.

Antrix is planning to expand its reseller network, especially in Latin America and Africa, and improve online distribution services, the statement said.

K.R. Sridharamurthi, who until recently was executive director of Antrix, said customers outside India have three options for obtaining data from ISRO’s remote sensing satellites, including direct downlink. “For this Antrix used to charge a fixed annual fee but now the charges are based on the resolution of the data downloaded and the duration for which the satellite is accessed,” he said.

Secondly, imagery can be obtained from an Antrix-appointed reseller. The imagery is downloaded at ISRO’s own ground station at Hyderabad and the data products are then delivered via computer disc or email to the distributor.

Finally, customers in areas with no Antrix-appointed resellers can go directly to Antrix, he said.

Antrix said North America has long been a responsive market, especially since the launch of Resourcesat-1. “With its multiple cameras offering multi-spectral and multi resolution data Resourcesat-1 has become an important” tool for U.S. government applications including crop monitoring, food security, forestry management and disaster relief efforts, the statement said.

One factor in the demand for Resourcesat-1 data among U.S. agencies including the Department of Agriculture is the status of the Landsat satellite system, which provides comparable data. Landsat 5 was launched during the mid-1980s and is on its last legs, while Landsat 7, launched in 1999, has been hobbled by an irreparable sensor glitch.

A report issued in March by the comptroller and auditor general of India said selling remote sensing images in the global market has become a money-losing proposition for ISRO. The report said commercial revenue generated by seven ISRO satellites is not even sufficient to cover their operating expenses.

But Sridharamurthi said the auditors failed to take into account the intangible benefits to the nation resulting from remote sensing. He said Antrix today markets data from satellites built primarily to serve India’s development needs and that commercial international sales occur at the margins.

Sridharamurthi said he has long advocated for a dedicated commercial remote sensing satellite, to be owned by Antrix outright or in partnership with a foreign country.