ISRO asked to remain silent on South Asia Satellite launch

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A terse message about the launch on ISRO’s website.

“We have been asked to [remain] silent on the launch [of the South Asia Satellite from Sriharikota off Andhra Pradesh on May 5 evening],” reads a message sent to me by a senior scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) when I tried to get details about the satellite launch. Many more attempts to get details about the launch from other scientists also proved futile. Scientists never attended my calls, which is extremely unusual. ISRO scientists have always been very cordial and forthcoming with details whenever I or my colleagues at The Hindu, or for that matter anyone from the media had got in touch with them on other occasions.

Apparently, the scientists have been told not to divulge any details till the satellite is launched. And I wonder what this secrecy is all about. The South Asia Satellite is just a communication satellite and nothing more.

The ISRO website has a terse message about the launch. It says: “GSAT-9 is scheduled to be launched on Friday May 05, 2017 from SDSC SHAR, Sriharikota.” The GSLV-F09 will be launched with a 2,230-kg satellite at around 5.00 pm on May 5.

This is the first time in so many years that I can recall is a launch going to happen without the media being taken to Sriharikota to witness it. According to a report in The Hindu, the last time the media was not taken to Sriharikota for a launch was when ISRO launched TecSAR, Israel’s spy satellite, in January 2008.

But the May 5 launch has nothing to do with any spy satellite. According to an April 30 PTI report, it is just a communication satellite with 12 Ku band transponders that Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka can use for “telecommunication and broadcasting applications such as television, direct-to-home (DTH), very small aperture terminals (VSATs), tele-education, telemedicine and disaster management support”. Pakistan has stayed away.

“The satellite also has the capability to provide secure hot lines among the participating nations in addition since the region is highly prone to earthquakes, cyclones, floods, tsunamis, it may help in providing critical communication links in times of disasters,” the PTI report says.

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