ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) Celebrates Ruby Year

ISRO Telemetry Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) was established on September 06, 1976 for facilitating to-and-fro communication conduit for launch vehicles and satellites of ISRO, in addition to carrying out satellite mission operations. Since then, its growth is in tune with the developments around the world. ISTRAC made a humble beginning from TERLS to support RH-series missions in 1970 and Aryabhata in 1975 through P/VHF bands from SHAR. Today, ISTRAC has emerged as a world class ground support provider, having a state-of-the-art TTC Network, Deep Space Network (DSN), TTC Network Control Centre, Mission Operations Complex and Space Science Data Centre. It is also responsible for operating the ISRO Navigation Centre, Search and Rescue - Disaster Management (SAR-DMS) operations, Hub for Space-based services, Radar Development for launch vehicle tracking and Weather Forecasting.

Car Nicobar  down range station was established in 1975 and successfully supported all SLV missions. During 1976, a Satellite Tracking And Ranging Station (STARS) was established at Kavalur with Ruby Laser Radar and an Optical Tracking Camera. In 1978, a VHF system was established at Ahmedabad to support Bhaskara missions that provided additional data for updating the orbital elements. The launch of APPLE in 1981 brought in a major improvement in TTC and mission support.  New C-Band terminals were realised at SHAR and Ahmedabad to support the normal phase of the mission. In order to have additional contact with the satellites, as well to obtain more tracking data, external network station of RSA, CNES and DLR were utilised.

A major decision was taken in 1982 to shift the frequency of operations for both the launch vehicles and satellites to S-Band. Towards catering to ASLV / PSLV / IRS Projects, ISTRAC proposed and augmented the TTC network under ISTRAC Expansion Project, namely, launch base TTC station with redundancy at SHAR, a down range station at Car Nicobar , intermediate down range station at Thiruvananthapuram, a down range station at Mauritius and a station at Lucknow, specifically to support IRS Missions.

In 1984, ISTRAC became a unit of ISRO and shifted to Bangalore towards establishing a Spacecraft Control Centre with associated TTC stations and computer systems for supporting the IRS missions. This major task was undertaken by ISTRAC and established in time for the launch of IRS-1A on March 17, 1988. Also, a station for South-bound PSLV launches was established at Mauritius in 1986. To take care of flame attenuation at the SHAR station, an 8 Meter S-Band antenna was established at Thiruvananthapuram in 1987. Also, 2 x 10M S-band terminals were established at Bangalore and Lucknow each and one at Mauritius. The Car Nicobar  station was shifted to Port Blair during 1995 after closure of the ASLV project.

ISTRAC could establish eight S-band TTC stations at geographically spread locations in a period of ten years. Today, ISTRAC has become a repository of domain knowledge and ready to take up various diversified activities.  Also, during 1997, ISTRAC facilitated satellite-based communication DAMA network, interconnecting various units of ISRO.

In order to meet the continuous Telemetry requirements of GSLV, an intermediate down range  station at Brunei and a down range  station at Biak (Indonesia) were established during 1998 that continued to serve all East-bound PSLV/GSLV Missions. As Biak station has some exclusive passes that are not visible to Indian stations, it is optimally utilised to support the satellite operations as well. The initiation of ISTRAC Network Modernisation (in 2 phases) during the year 2000, brought in the state-of-the-art systems with miniaturisation and multi-functional capabilities, paving the way for automated network control. The second S/C-Band terminal was put up at Biak during 2005 to support LEOP operations of GEO Missions. Also, during this period, fully automated VHF terminals were established at low-cost to support HAMSAT Mission. In 2006, the upgradation of Bangalore and Lucknow S/X terminals from 3.7 M to 11 M terminal was completed. And, a new 11 M S-Band TTC terminal was established in MOX complex during 2007 towards support of Cartosat missions.

Establishing the ground segment for Chandrayaan-1 mission was the biggest challenge for ISTRAC. An 18 metre S-Band DSN antenna was installed to support Chandrayaan-1 mission during 2007 and the indigenous 32 meter S/C-Band deep space antenna was realised in 2008 with a record time of just two years. The Indian Space Science Data Centre became the focus of all lunar science activities. A 11 M S/X-Band antenna has been established for the exclusive support of ASTROSAT Mission in the IDSN complex during the same period. 2009 saw an S/X second terminal at Mauritius for payload data reception and SHAR / Thiruvananthapuram antennas were upgraded with 11 M antennas. ISTRAC Transportable Terminals supported PSLV-C19/RISAT (2012), PSLV-C25/MOM (2013) and PSLV-C34/Cartosat-2 series satellite mission (2016) from Rodrigues / Pacific ocean / Rodrigues respectively. In both Chandrayaan-1 and MOM missions, the man – machine endurance was successfully tested.

The existing Spacecraft Control Centre of the 80s was configured to support a main satellite and a co-passenger. As the satellites grew with complexity and in quick succession, new control centres had to be established and thus sophisticated MOX-1 (2008) and MOX-2 (2010) were realised in a separate campus which can support dual launch missions simultaneously. The automation of satellite operations has brought in a sense of secured monitoring and control of the satellites. Currently, ISTRAC handles 15 satellites and ensures their services. And to take care of any exigencies ISTRAC has established an alternate control centre at Lucknow and IDSN.

ISTRAC has so far supported 64 of launch vehicle/satellite missions. ISTRAC provided TTC support for EUTELSAT Mission in 1990/91. It also contributed to the business of ANTRIX by providing TTC support to external agencies and supported two dozen missions so far.

On the RADAR front, Doppler Weather Radars and C/S-Band tracking radars were designed, developed and operationalised by ISTRAC. The IRNSS Ground Segment consists of INC-1 and 2, Timing Facility, IRDCN, 14 IRIMS and 4 IRCDR stations are maintained by ISTRAC, helping to enable the critical IRNSS services. The search and rescue and disaster management facility at ISTRAC is providing reliable services to people under distress. The LEOLUT was augmented with GEOLUT and currently, work related to MEOSAR has begun. The hub for the space-based services supports various societal applications such as Tele-Education, Tele-Medicine and VRC.

Reliability and Quality Assurance (REQA) Group has focused its attention towards achieving high reliable operational support of the ISTRAC Ground Segment. It has established a Test Instrument facility at Bangalore for calibration of test instruments. It has achieved its excellences in providing calibration, incoming inspection and in-process inspection support for the various mission critical processes of ISTRAC.

ISTRAC Celebrated the Ruby Year today (November 21, 2016) after completing 40 years of its existence. The evolution of ISTRAC from being a tracking station for the SLV/Aryabhata mission to a state-of-the-art ground support centre, capable of supporting complex missions like GSLV and Mars Orbiter Mission, is noteworthy. Prof Dhawan initiated the process of forming ISTRAC and subsequent Chairmen of ISRO and Directors nurtured ISTRAC in to a world-class TTC service Facility and Satellite Operations Centre. At the Ruby day function organised at MOX, ISTRAC today, Mr A S Kiran Kumar, Chairman ISRO and Secretary DOS delivered the Presidential Address and released the Souvenir. Mr KVVSSSR Anjaneyulu, Director, ISTRAC welcomed the invitees. Former Directors  of ISTRAC, Mr K V Venkatachary, Dr. S Rangarajan, Dr S K Shivakumar and Mr. B S Chandrashekhar shared their experiences during the function.


Celebration of Ruby Year at ISTRAC


Apple Control Centre


Honourable PM Addressing ISRO after witnessing the historic successful insertion of Mars Orbiter Mission into Martian Orbit


Downrange Station at Biak (Indonesia)


ISTRAC Antenna at Mauritius