New Delhi: They call her RISAT 1 - short for Radar Imaging Satellite. She's the first such machine India has built on its own. While most remote sensing satellites need light to snap pictures, RISAT uses microwaves - similar to the ones in your kitchen oven.
Just like your camera fires a flash of light, RISAT-1 fires microwaves, which the ground reflects back. A radar inside the satellite uses those reflections to make pictures so clear, that from six hundred kilometers above, the satellite can tell what car you're driving.
Because it doesn't need light, RISAT works both by day and night, in cloudy conditions and crucially, they see you even if you're hiding under trees, in forests. That makes them useful for the military.
But officially, pictures from RISAT-1 will be used to estimate the number of hectares being farmed in India, to assess crop health and predict total yield. It can also be used for disaster management during cyclones and floods. They can also be used to identify wreckage from airplanes that go down in forested areas.
India has launched similar Israeli satellites earlier. The first, called Tecsar, was launched in January 2008 and the second, RISAT-2 went up in April 2009. While Israel uses the images from Tecsar, India uses the feed from RISAT-2.