India moved a step closer on June 4 to set up its own GPS system that may take its armed forces and entire economic enterprises into a new trajectory of growth.
This became possible with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) signing a pact with the New Delhi-based National Physical Laboratory (NPL) to use the “official time” provided by the latter for its indigenous global positioning system, the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS).
Linking the IRNSS to high-precision atomic clocks maintained at NPL — the official timekeepers to the nation and a constituent laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) — would help ISRO end its dependence on the United States Naval Observatory (USNO) for time synchronization. Moreover, this will bring down the error in time precision to less than 20 nanoseconds. One nanosecond is one-billionth of a second.
Currently, when IRNSS, which can be used for accurate positional information services, just like GPS or Russia’s GLONASS, track an event or location, it gives out time with respect to Coordinated Universal Time as per the time maintained by atomic clocks at the USNO.
“(There is) no way we can know what was the time with reference to Indian Standard Time,” said VV Srinivasan, Director of ISRO Telemetry Tracking and Command Network, who signed the memorandum of understanding with CSIR-NPL director Dinesh Aswal. The deal with ISRO is expected to bring NPL an annual revenue of Rs1 crore or more.
High-precision time measurements are becoming increasingly important for different sectors of the economy. Smart grids for electricity distribution, for instance, need precise time synchronization to avoid outages. Similarly, resolving cyber crimes would require the exact time of online fraud as million of transactions are done every second, the ISRO official said.
“Currently, we all use GPS for tracking and location services. GPS is not a NASA project, it is owned by the US Department of Defense. Anytime they can stop you from accessing GPS data. They have already done that in West Asia during the wars in the recent past,” another ISRO official present on the occasion said.
Linking to the IST would be strategically important as various government ministries and departments, including some strategic ones, and the public at large is expected to move to the IRNSS very soon, he said. The IRNSS became operational with ISRO launching seven navigational satellites last year.