Hurricane Sandy has taught some important lessons about how to handle expensive space missions -- collaborate to cut costs, collaborate to get an edge, and collaborate to save citizens from the wrath of nature.
Surface winds of over 65 kms per hour wreaked havoc along the east coast in the US late October while Oceansat-2, a satellite from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) beamed data down to NASA to help the country defend itself against Hurricane Sandy.
The Oscat radio scatterometer on board Oceansat-2 is a unique instrument and there is significant demand from the global community to use the instrument for ocean research. Scatterometer data is used to derive the global wind velocity (magnitude and direction) over the ocean surface, which is used as an input for weather forecasting, monitoring of cyclones and hurricanes and their trajectory, monitoring polar sea ice changes and forecasting. According to ISRO, the scatterometer provides data on wind speeds accurate to plus or minus 10 percent in speed and 20 degrees in wind direction.
Nasa sought Isro's help as its QuikSat satellite, a system very similar to Oceansat-2, stopped operating in November 2009. The US weather satellite GOES-East also malfunctioned in September and was taken offline. A National Council report warns that there could be a drop in weather satellites in the US, from 23 to 6 by 2020, highlighting the need for global cooperation.
ISRO, NASA, and USNOAA have agreed to share Oceansat-2 data, and ISRO has been making the most of international cooperation through MoUs and agreements for some time. Data from Megha Tropiques, a joint venture between India and France launched on October 12, 2011 generate improved current-weather variables leading to better forecasts not just for India, but for the entire tropical region. In addition to India and France, 21 scientific teams from Australia, Brazil, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Niger, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the US await data from this satellite as it is the first of eight satellites meant for Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM).
Another collaborative effort between ISRO and CNES (French Space Agency) is Saral, aimed at the study of ocean levels. It is slated for a December 12, 2012 launch.
In fact, at the 39th Scientific Assembly of the Committee on Space Research earlier this year, ISRO called for even more collaboration in space missions in order to reduce the cost. The 2012 Space Competitive Index by Futron notes that international collaboration is increasingly taking shape as a concerted space competitiveness strategy, especially among smaller agencies. Not surprising then that India's 100th space mission saw an Indian rocket launch its competitor's satellite.
Meanwhile, the just concluded Plenary of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites encouraged enhanced cooperation among participating agencies for effective societal decision making in the areas of climate change, forest monitoring, sustainable development, food and water security, and disaster risk management, through virtual constellations of satellites. That sounds like a good beginning.
It also sounds like the only way to move forward in space is to collaborate. It is good then that India has formed so many partnerships and continues to build on this strategy. They're finding themselves right where they need to be to weather the storms of the future.