India received satellite data on its flood-hit regions from eight nations and China was the first to provide it as part of a multi-lateral mechanism for sharing space-based information for countries affected by natural or man-made disasters. The first set of data on Assam came from the Chinese Gaofen-2 satellite on July 18. Large parts of India’s North-East and Bihar are grappling with a worsening flood situation.
  1. Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that whenever there is a natural disaster, the National Remote Sensing Center (NRSC) and member space agencies of 32 other countries, which are a part of the International Charter, Space and Major Disasters, can activate the platform. The NRSC represents Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) as a member of the charter.
  2. Earth-observation satellites capture high-resolution pictures of land and ocean surfaces. Most of these move at great speeds in their orbits around the earth and remain over a particular area for barely seconds. They return to that point only hours — sometimes days later. 
  3. So even if disaster hits in a country with advanced assets in space, its satellites might not be in the proper place at that time to view the affected area. But some other country’s satellite may be. 
  4. That is why countries have decided to pool their resources and help out a member country that requests information for satellite pictures and data. This also helps a country access satellite pictures of varying resolutions, different angles, and taken at different times. Countries have to “activate” a request for satellite data every time they need it.
  5. In this particular case, ISRO, which is one of the original members of the Charter, requested for data on the flood-affected regions of Assam on July 17 following which various agencies, whose satellites passed over the area, responded with information. 
  6. The first set of data came from the Chinese satellite. Other agencies gave information as and when their satellites passed over the area.
  7. India’s own Cartosat-1 satellite crossed the area on July 18 and provided images. So far, Korean, Canadian, European and Russian satellites have scanned the area and provided data to ISRO on flood-affected areas in Dhubri, Morigaon, Barpeta, Dhemaji and Lakhimpur districts of Assam.
  8. Under the charter, so far data has been received from eight countries, including USGS (United States Geological Survey), CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales), ESA (European Space Agency), ROSCOSMOS (Russian space agency), Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA) and three others.
  9. India last made a request for satellite data during Cyclone Fani in May. Last year, it made three such requests, including during the Kerala floods and a landslide in Karnataka. India’s satellites also routinely provide information to other countries.
  1. The International Charter "Space and Major Disasters" is a non-binding charter which provides for the charitable and humanitarian retasked acquisition of and transmission of space satellite data to relief organizations in the event of major disasters. 
  2. Initiated by the European Space Agency and the French space agency CNES after the UNISPACE III conference held in Vienna, Austria in July 1999, it officially came into operation on November 1, 2000 after the Canadian Space Agency signed onto the charter on October 20, 2000. 
  3. Their space assets were then, respectively, ERS and ENVISAT, SPOT and Formosat, and RADARSAT.