India and United States to share satellite data

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After more than a decade of refusing to do so, India has agreed to share with the United States weather and atmospheric data gathered by its INSAT geostationary satellites over the Indian Ocean on a "near real-time basis". But it has stipulated that the United States should not disseminate the Indian data to a third country without its consent.

India has three INSAT satellites collecting data, with a resolution of 2.75 km in the visible band and 11 km in the infrared. INSAT-2E, to be launched this year, will have improved resolution, as well as the ability to measure atmospheric moisture.

The agreement, signed last week in Washington, represents a victory for US scientists, who have been pressing since 1987 for access to INSAT data to help them fill a data gap over the Indian Ocean.

The latest agreement — reached after intense negotiations between NASA and the Indian Department of Space (see Nature 375, 441; 1995) — marks a policy shift that ends a long-standing irritant in Indo-American scientific collaboration.

Under the agreement, initially planned for five years, NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) can access high-resolution processed INSAT data via a dedicated link between NASA in Washington DC and IMD in New Delhi.

Processing involves only a few seconds, so US agencies will receive INSAT data in "near real time", says an IMD official. India is to get direct access to NASA's Earth and atmosphere science databases, including data from NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) over the Pacific Ocean. IMD says this would help to sharpen its forecasts of monsoons and tropical cyclones.

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