NEW DELHI, India, March 21, Reuter: India, where much of the 800 million population still relies on the bullock cart, has cast its hopes on space to fight a crippling drought and growing environment problems.

India’s space officials said on Monday the country’s remote sensing satellite launched last week would be operational in April. It provides high revolution pictures of India’s forests, rivers and crops.

“From our point of view, it is a major milestone in our efforts”, said Space Commission Chairman UR Rao. “It will help in attacking drought on a long term basis”.

The satellite was launched on Thursday from the Soviet Union’s Baikonour Cosmodrome in Central Asia.

Rao said the 975kg (2,150 pound) IRS 1A satellite was in “excellent health” and would orbit the earth 14 times a day at an altitude of 904 km, relaying back pictures back to the earth for scientists to study.

Powered by fuel and solar energy, the satellite built almost entirely by Indian scientists for 15 million dollars will completely chart India’s environment every 22 days.

Japan is the only other country in Asia to use such a state of the art satellite, he said.

Rao said the satellite would provide date to the country’s natural resources management system, which combines conventional meteorological and satellite technology to preserve the environment and boost agriculture and mineral production.

India is battling its worst drought this century following the failure of monsoon rains last summer which devastated crop production and forced increased imports of essential commodities such as edible oils.

India experiences extremes of weather from flooding rains in the northeast flooding to persistent drought in some western areas. Heavy deforestation has also left the country with forests that cover only a fifth of its total land surface.

The satellite, the first of at least three to be used for remote sensing would provide in depth information to four districts selected as models before being used on a wider scale,

The satellite has life of two to three years and subsequent satellites could use more powerful equipment and cameras, Rao said.

But he stressed the space authorities, working on an annual budget of about 300 million dollars, would not be used for defense purposes.

“We had a large number of industries and scientists working on it but the defense ministry did not play a part in its design”.

A western diplomat who has followed the development of India’s space program, said: “It would be a major boost to the economy if they succeed in utilizing all the potential data to weather”.

He said India could now predict crop production up to eight months in advance.

Article extracted from this publication >> March 25, 1988