In a large country with growing population, challenges in managing natural resources and sustaining its environment are manifold. The need for spatial data and a further need to update the information frequently are of profound value. Realizing this, the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India lost no time in moving towards establishing an institution that would in future become the lead centre for remote sensing activities in the country.
Consequent to the approval of the Union Cabinet, the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) was registered as a Society on 2nd September 1974, with clearly stated objectives in the broader domain of undertaking and facilitating remote sensing activities in the country. On January 15, 1975, Wg.Cdv.K.R.Rao AVSM (retd) took over as Director, NRSA. An airborne Geophysical survey was started as the first technical activity. The early seventies can be deemed as our organization formative phase. During the early years, the focus was aerial photography. A HS-748 aircraft was procured. However, it was being felt that the absence of an Indian Earth Station to receive satellite data would be a serious handicap in our efforts of resources survey. NRSA's Governing Body, in its first meeting in August 1975 under the chairmanship of the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, approved the establishment of an earth station in India under the auspices of NRSA and entering into a MoU with the USA towards receiving earth resources data directly from the Landsat series of satellite launched by NASA. Land was allotted by the Govt. of Andhra Pradesh near Shadnagar, about 60 km south of Hyderabad for this purpose. The station was declared operational from 1st January 1980, just one and a half years from concept to completion. Standard output data products were generated for the first time in the country with proper and systematic radiometric and geometric corrections. A data bank along with microfiche browse facility was also established. Computer listings giving cloud cover, data quality, etc. were made available to the user community in the country. With that, NRSA established the first operational satellite data reception facility in the country. Photo Processing Lab and Cartographic facility were also commissioned.
In the area of Training and Capacity Building, the Indian Photo-interpretation Institute (IPI) at Dehradun merged with NRSA in 1976. During 1978-79, INDO-FRG technical cooperation was initiated. The early and mid-eighties were the experimental phase. The very first change was that NRSA came under Department of Space (DOS) umbrella in 1980. System planning for Indian Remote Sensing satellites commenced. Data processing systems were established at Balanagar campus. The IPI was renamed as Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS) in 1984. NRSC has Imparted training to about 4257 participants from user organizations and ISRO/NRSC In-House activities towards effective utilization of Remote Sensing data & Space based inputs in various application since 1991 till date through various training programmes.
As part of remote sensing applications, national-level utilisation programmes were taken up. Wasteland mapping of India on 1:1 M scale was initiated. Nation-wide mapping of forest and non-forest area was taken up.
The launch of India first operational remote sensing satellite IRS-1A on 17th March, 1988 initiated NRSA's operational phase. Entire ground segment for reception, processing and dissemination of IRS-1A was established. Microwave link facility from Shadnagar to Balanagar and a dedicated line to Bangalore for telemetry data were also established. Data archival and quick look real time system was integrated with the data acquisition systems. Digital browse facility of data products was fully established for operational use. With the sales figure of data crossing 10,000 mark, NRSA turned towards International marketing.
Subsequently, facilities were upgraded to receive data from SPOT, SAR data from ERS, Metsat, MODIS data from AQUA and Terra satellites. The IRS-1A initiated national missions in application and the continuance of the application projects necessitated the launch of subsequent satellites in the IRS series like IRS1B, IRS-1C, IRS-1D, IRS-P3, IRS-P4 and IRS-P6.
Major floods and cyclones in the country were monitored and Scientific assessment of flood prone area in the country in near real time using satellite/aerial data and flood inundation information is disseminated to the nodal ministries, Central and State Govt departments for helping in relief management. NRSC also provides Support to international disasters through International Charter and Sentinel Asia forums. National Database for Emergency Management (NDEM) is an ongoing project carried out by the Remote Sensing Application Area, NRSC. NDEM Phase 1 and II has been made operationalized from Shadnagar Data Centre and NDEM version 2.0 has been released.
In Geosciences, NRSC has been carrying out projects with various central ministries such as Mines, Department of Atomic Energy, Coal, Steel, Petroleum and Natural gas, Power, Drinking water and sanitation with active participation of state and regional remote sensing centers.Many application projects have been carried out for PSUs and private industries such as NHPC, Reliance gas, Indian oil corporation, BCCL etc.
In Soil and Land Resources NRSC has carried out Soil mapping at 1:50,000 scale in various parts of India under IMSD and NRC- soil mapping projects, Watershed monitoring under RVP and NATP projects, Mapping Salt-affected soils of India on 1:250,000 scales and on 1:50,000 scale for selected areas including irrigated commands, Land degradation assessment and monitoring on 1:50000 scale for entire country, Land use Land cover monitoring on annual basis at 1:250,000 scale for entire country since 2004-5 till date, Estimation of Soil organic and inorganic carbon pools for entire India and Hyperspectral studies for assessment of soil properties.