Thursday, July 7, 2011

Indian Remote Sensing Data Policy Has Been Updated

A country that has launched ten remote sensing satellites has finally decided to share some of its riches with the true custodians of that data - its citizens.

The Government of India recently announced its new data policy for the management and dissemination of satellite remote sensing data. Of most interest to users is that data upto 1 meter resolution will be disseminated to all users on a "non-discriminatory basis". Previously only government users had easier access to 1 meter resolution images. Only data upto 5.8 meter resolution was being distributed to private users without permissions and security clearances.  With this new policy, the 1 meter data is still going to be pre-screened by the government to mask sensitive areas, but no further permissions will be required.

This policy although an improvement is still restrictive. If you are a private user or a private company and want data better than one meter taken from foreign or Indian satellites you will need to be approved by the government if you want to buy this best data in India. Several foreign satellites and the Indian Cartosat -2A and 2B collect sub-meter images. Data purchase in India is from the National Remote Sensing Centre.

You can of course purchase data of India taken from foreign satellites outside India also, which was one of the arguments that restrictions of any kind just don't make any sense.

What does this mean for different users of satellite data?

1) If you are a professional user of satellite images and are working with the Indian government then not much. You always had easy access to high resolution data.

2) If you are a private user or a private company then you will find ordering 1 meter resolution images easier. No further screening of your application will be necessary and you should be able to get hold of the data quicker than before.

3) For the casual user- Will Bhuvan - ISRO's flagship web mapping application - start streaming 1 meter resolution images of India?  Until now because of policy restrictions it could stream only 5.8 meter resolution images at best. This affects the non-professional user, people who are currently going to Google Maps or Google Earth for browsing images of India. If Bhuvan starts streaming 1 meter resolution images will more people move from Google to Bhuvan?

I doubt it. Google is streaming superb high resolution images of India and it may even release - or already has - sub- meter images which Bhuvan will be unable to do due to restrictions on dissemination of data better than one meter. Besides there is the problem of usability and performance. I am not very impressed with Bhuvan. The image loading is slow. The one advantage that Bhuvan had claimed over Google was India specific additional layers on natural resources. Yet I found that rendering of these layers is non-optimal and geo-processing tasks are not compatible with all browsers. In short, Bhuvan still has the look of an unfinished product. As far as popular usage of satellite images goes, Google has a substantial hold on Indian users and it looks like it will stay that way.

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