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Woman behind Risat-1 feels on top of the world

Sriharikota (Andhra Pradesh) April 26 - Indian satellite scientist N. Valarmathi, 52, was herself on cloud nine when her baby - the Indian spy in the sky Radar Imaging Satellite (Risat-1) - started its ascent to the skies Thursday morning.

'It was a nice feeling. I felt very great,' Valarmathi, project director for Risat-1 project, told IANS.

Playing down the satellite's strategic role, the woman who delivered the Indian spy in the sky for the nation, said: 'Risat-1 is a unique satellite with several new technologies including Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) that could take images during day and night.'

She said the satellite has high data handling systems, and high storage devices among other things.

Weighing 1,858 kg, the Risat-1, which has a life span of five years, would be used for disaster prediction and agriculture and forestry purposes while its high-resolution pictures and microwave imaging could also be used for defence purposes.

Hailing from Tamil Nadu's Ariyalur district where she had her schooling, Valarmathi is the second woman to be the satellite project director at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), but the first woman to head a remote sensing satellite project.

T.K. Anuradha, who headed the communication satellite GSAT-12 programme, is the first woman ever to have been the satellite project director at ISRO.

At the macro level, ISRO has three satellite programmes: geo-stationary, remote sensing and small/experimental satellites. The geo-stationary satellites are largely communication satellites used for telecommunications, television broadcasting, internet and other purposes, while remote sensing or earth observation satellites send back pictures and other data for use.

Holding a masters degree in engineering from the famed Anna University here, Valarmathi joined ISRO Satellite Centre in Bangalore in 1984.

'I joined ISRO at a time when it was immersed in several exciting projects,' she said.

Valarmathi has worked in satellite projects like Insat 2A, IRS IC, IRS ID, TES and finally Risat.

Wife of a banker G. Vasudevan and mother of two - a son and daughter, Valarmathi got involved in Risat-1 project in 2002 and worked in capacities like deputy project director and associate project director before she got elevated as the project director last August.

'The position had higher responsibility and challenges,' she said.

According to her, Risat-1 was first of its kind satellite for the ISRO and it called for additional effort in building the same.

'The project depended on deliverables from other ISRO centres. Accommodation of components for satellite needed periodical reviews and almost all the events were new,' she said while thanking her team as well as other ISRO officials for the success of launch mission.

She does not agree the project got inordinately delayed or it got speeded up after a point.

'From the beginning the project progressed at a good pace,' remarked Valarmathi who loves nature and reading books.

Queried about her next project, she said the Risat-1 work is not all over as she has to ensure the picture clarity and fine tuning the systems if needed.

'There will be several Risats working in various bands,' said Valarmathi.

With 12 remote sensing/earth observation satellites orbiting in space, India has the largest constellation of remote sensing satellites in the world providing imagery in a variety of resolutions from more than a metre ranging up to 500 metres. The data makes India a major player in vending such data in the global market.

The 12 satellites are TES, Resourcesat 1, Cartosat 1, 2, 2A and 2B, IMS 1, Risat-2, Oceansat 2, Resourcesat-2, and Megha-Tropiques and Risat-1.


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