Tag Archives: S. Chandrashekar

North Korea’s Hwasong 12 Missile Test

North Korea’s Hwasong 12 Missile Test

Authors: S. Chandrashekar, Rajaram Nagappa and N.Ramani

To read the complete report click here

To cite: S. Chandrashekar, Rajaram Nagappa and N.Ramani. North Korea’s Hwasong 12 Missile Test. ISSSP Report No. 04-2017. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, June 2017, available at http://isssp.in/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/North-Korea’s-Hwasong-12-Missile-Test.pdf

The available evidence from North Korea’s May 14 2017 launch of the Hwasong 12 missile suggests that it is a two stage missile.

Measurements on the images of the missile are also consistent with an Unha 3 space launcher origin for the Hwasong 12. If this were so it would have a diameter of 2.4 m and use Kerosene and AK 27 as fuel and oxidizer.

A single stage Unha 3 derived Hwasong 12 can also be ruled out based on a performance appraisal of North Korea’s current missile and space capabilities. The two stages appear to have about the same length. The first stage would be very similar to the Unha 3 booster with a propellant fraction of 84%.

The second stage would also use the same engine as the Unha 3 booster but would be a more optimized stage with a propellant fraction of around 87%.

These stages are consistent with what North Korea has already demonstrated through its space and missile launchings.

Though North Korea has so far not tested a thermonuclear device, the length of the Reentry Vehicle (RV) of 5.25 m suggests that it is intended to carry a thermonuclear warhead.

The predicted range of the Hwasong 12 missile with a warhead weighing 650 Kg launched due east with an azimuth of 90 degrees will be 4385 Km. This should allow North Korea to comfortably target Guam even with a heavier warhead.

With a suitable third stage the Hwasong 12 can be converted into an ICBM that can reach the US mainland. One can expect the test of such a configuration in the near future.

Taken together the successful launch of the Hwasong 12 along with the nuclear weapons testing that North Korea is carrying out indicates that North Korea is well on its way towards developing a nuclear tipped ICBM that can reach the continental United States.

To read the complete report click here

About the Authors

S. Chandrashekar is JRD Tata Chair Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at chandrashekar.schandra@gmail.com

Rajaram Nagappa is a Programme Head, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at r.nagappa@gmail.com

N. Ramani is Visiting Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at narayan.ramani@gmail.com

Discriminating Uranium and Copper mills using satellite imagery

Remote Sensing Applications: Society and Environment, 20 January 2017, pp. 27-35

Lalitha Sundaresan, S.Chandrashekar, Bhupendra Jasani

Identifying uranium mills from high resolution commercial satellite images has assumed significance in recent years because of non-proliferation concerns. Studies have shown that it is difficult to identify Uranium mills through remote sensing methods that use only spectral signatures. In this communication we suggest an approach that relies only on spatial signatures of the equipment used in the extraction process as an alternative. Since the extraction of Uranium and Copper have many similar features especially where Copper is extracted from low grade ore or from copper tailings, there could be ambiguity in identifying a Uranium mill from high resolution commercial satellite images. In this paper we suggest some improvements to the methodology outlined by us in our earlier work. In addition to the other features used to separate Uranium and Copper mills we bring in the dimensions of common equipment used in both processes as an additional dimension to improve the robustness of our classification. This technique is applicable only where the extraction is done in a mill and not where Uranium is extracted by in situ leaching methods.

To read the complete article click here

Creating a Rare Earth Industry in India

Indo-French Workshop, “Challenges in the Processing and Recycling of Rare-Earth (CIPRE)”, Pune, July 19-21, 2016

Lalitha Sundaresan, Visiting Professor, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies 

Professor Lalitha Sundaresan was invited to deliver a talk at the Indo-French Workshop, “Challenges in the Processing and Recycling of Rare-earth (CIPRE)”, organized at Pune from July 19-21, 2016, under the aegis of CEFIPRA (Indo French Centre for the Promotion of Advanced Research). This workshop was organized to strengthen and consolidate Rare Earth research and development in our country. The workshop focus on rare earths separation technologies (primarily solvent extraction), Recycling and Strategy and Road Map. The event was jointly organized by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Institut de Chimie Séparative de Marcoule (ICSM) France, Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL) and CSIR-National Metallurgical Laboratory (NML), Jamshedpur. The Abstract was co-authored by Prof Lalitha Sundaresan and Prof. S. Chandrashekar.

Abstract of Talk: India has significant rare earth resources and yet does not figure in the global rare earth value chain. In the global rare earth industry life cycle India continues to remain in the early incubation R&D phase. There are many rare earth based products that could be manufactured in India. Technologies for manufacturing rare earth permanent magnets that are used commercially and also find use in the defense sectors are already available. This talk will focus on the critical RE intermediate products that India should manufacture and emphasises the need for developing an RE industry eco-system in the country.

China’s Constellation of Yaogan Satellites & the ASBM: May 2016 Update

China’s Constellation of Yaogan Satellites & the ASBM: May 2016 Update

Authors: S. Chandrashekar and Soma Perumal

To read the complete report click here

To cite: S. Chandrashekar and Soma Perumal. China’s Constellation of Yaogan Satellites & the ASBM: May 2016 Update. ISSSP Report No. 03-2016. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, May 2016, available at http://isssp.in/chinas-constellation-of-yaogan-satellites-the-asbm-may-2016-update/

Yaogan May 2016With the launch of the Yaogan 28, Yaogan 29 in November 2015 and Yaogan 30 satellite in May 2016, China has demonstrated its ability to routinely identify, locate and track an Aircraft Carrier Group (ACG) on the high seas. This space capability is an important component of an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) System that China has set up. The current operational satellite constellation consists of ELINT satellites, satellites carrying Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) sensors as well as satellites carrying optical imaging sensors.

Based on the orbit characteristics, their local time of equatorial crossing and other related parameters, these satellites can be grouped into different categories that perform the various functions for identifying, locating and tracking the ACG.

Yaogan 9 (Yaogan 9A, 9B, 9C), Yaogan 16 (16A, 16B, 16C), Yaogan 17 (17A, 17B, 17C), Yaogan 20 (20A, 20B, 20C) and Yaogan25 (25A, 25B, 25C) are the five triplet cluster equipped with ELINT sensors that provide broad area surveillance over the Oceans. With a coverage radius of about 3500 Km, they provide the first coarse fix for identifying and locating an ACG in the Pacific Ocean. Yaogan 20 and Yaogan 25 may be replacements for the Yaogan 9 and the Yaogan 16 that may be nearing the end of their lives.

Yaogan 23, Yaogan 29, Yaogan 10, and Yaogan 18 are the satellites carrying a SAR sensor. With Local times of crossing of 02 00, 04 30, 06 00, and 10 00 hours they provide all weather as well as day and night imaging capabilities over the regions of interest.

Yaogan 30, Yaogan 26, Yaogan 4, Yaogan 24, Yaogan 28, Yaogan 7 and Yaogan 21 constitute the high resolution optical satellites in the current constellation. The sensors they carry may have resolutions of between 1 to 3 m. Their local times of crossing of 09 00, 10 30, 11 00, 13 30, 14 00, 15 00 and 17 30 hours respectively ensure favourable illumination conditions for their imaging missions.

Yaogan 27, Yaogan 19, Yaogan 22 and Yaogan 15 satellites with local times of crossing of 09 30, 10 30, 13 30 and 14 30 hours respectively are optical imaging satellites with medium resolution (3 to 10 m) capabilities. They act as a broad area coverage complement for the SAR as well as the high resolution optical imaging satellites. Yaogan 27 is a replacement for the Yaogan 8 that may be nearing the end of its life.

Using typical sensor geometries and the two line orbital elements available from public sources the ability of the current constellation to identify, locate and track the ACG was simulated.

Assuming that any three of the ELINT clusters are operational at any given point in time the ELINT satellites typically make 18 contacts in a day with the moving target. The maximum period for which the target remains outside the reach of the ELINT satellites is about 90 minutes in a day. The SAR and the optical imaging satellites together typically provide 24 satellite passes over the target. About 16 targeting opportunities, during which the uncertainty in the target’s location is less than 10 km, are available in a day.

The analysis and the simulation results suggest that China has in place an operational ASBM system that can identify, locate, track and destroy an Aircraft Carrier in the Pacific Ocean. This seems to be an important component of a larger Chinese Access and Area Denial Strategy focused around a conflict over Taiwan.

To read the complete report click here

About the Authors

S. Chandrashekar is JRD Tata Chair Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at chandrashekar.schandra[at]gmail.com

Soma Perumal is Adjunct Faculty in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at som598[at]yahoo.com


Analysis of North Korea’s February 2016 Successful Space Launch

Analysis of North Korea’s February 2016 Successful Space Launch

Authors: S. Chandrashekar, N. Ramani, Arun Vishwanathan

To read the complete report click here

To cite: S. Chandrashekar, N. Ramani, Arun Vishwanathan. Analysis of North Korea’s February 2016 Successful Space Launch. ISSSP Report No. 02-2016. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, April 2016, available at http://isssp.in/analysis-of-north-koreas-february-2016-successful-space-launch/

DPRK Feb 2016 Unha3The Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea succeeded in placing a 100 kg Earth Observation (EO) satellite Kwangmyongsong-4 into a Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO) on February 7, 2016. As it had done in earlier launches, the DPRK used its Unha-3 launch vehicle for the latest mission. The launch was conducted from the Sohae Space Center in Ch’o’lsan County, North Pyongyang Province.

North Korea has so far conducted six space launches. The last two launches conducted in December 2012 and the recent February 2016 launch have been successful in placing small remote sensing satellites into “more difficult to reach” sun synchronous orbits.

Based on available information put out by various agencies including official North Korean sources this report attempts to reconstruct the trajectory of the February 2016 launch. Using this reconstruction of the trajectory it goes on to make inferences about the technical parameters of the launcher. It builds upon and complements an earlier study carried out by the ISSSP on North Korea’s successful launch of 2012 to provide an update on North Korea’s launch and space capabilities.

On February 2, 2016, the North Koreans had released information about an impending space launch to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). The statement indicated a launch window stretching from February 8 to February 25, 2016. It also provided the area coordinates or impact zones for the spent stages and the shroud. On February 6, 2016, the DPRK narrowed down the launch window to February 7-14. The launch took place on February 7, 2016, the first day of the revised launch window.

Analysis of the Unha-3 Launch using NIAS Quo Vadis Trajectory Software

The analysis was carried out using the Quo Vadis trajectory software developed at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore. Using an iterative trial and error process involving changes in the various launch vehicle parameters very similar to those used in our analysis of the 2012 launch we attempted to arrive at a trajectory in which the impact points of the first stage, second stage and shroud are closely matched with the nominal impact points put out by North Korea. Along with this we also introduced needed maneuvers to the first, second and third stages for realizing an orbit that matched well with the NORAD orbital data. 

With two successful satellite launches, North Korea has indicated its capability to indigenously design, develop, test and integrate advanced technologies like a new engine for its launch vehicle. More importantly, the two launches have highlighted the North Korean capability to bring together the hard technologies with the softer parts of the launch like mission planning and management.

For placing the satellite into a sun synchronous orbit, North Korea has to carry out maneuvers after liftoff, pitch down the second stage after the first stage separation and also carry out a yaw maneuver of the third stage before injection of the satellite into orbit.

Successful mastery of these difficult technologies and a complex mission indicates the progress in rocket and missile technology that the North Koreans have achieved since their first failed launch in April 2012. The launch trajectory and the initial orbits of the February 2016 launch of the Unha-3 as computed by the Quo Vadis software is depicted in Figure below.

unha3 feb 2016 launch trajectory

Unha-3 February 2016 Launch Trajectory

Click here to download the KMZ file for the Unha-3 Trajectory

Unha-3 as a long-range Ballistic Missile

North Korea conducted four nuclear tests with the latest test in January 2016. In addition it has successfully put a satellite into orbit twice – in December 2012 and February 2016. With these capabilities, North Korea is moving towards the capability to miniaturize its nuclear warhead and delivering them on long range missiles.

Though the Unha-3 is primarily designed for a space mission, it can be modified into a long range ballistic missile. Trajectory analysis using the NIAS trajectory modelling software – Quo Vadis – shows that a due North East launch (25o azimuth) of the Unha from a suitable location with a 1000kg payload (sufficient to carry a nuclear warhead) can reach all of Alaska and some parts of northern Canada. As indicated in an earlier ISSSP, NIAS report, if North Korea manages to reduce the payload mass to 800kg it will be able to successfully deliver a nuclear warhead on parts of western coast of the continental United States including the states of Washington, Oregon and northern parts of California.

Figure below provides a visual representation of the range of the Unha 3 launcher if it is deployed as a long range missile.

Unha-3 as a BM

Unha-3 as a Long Range Ballistic Missile

About the Authors

S. Chandrashekar is JRD Tata Chair Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at chandrashekar.schandra[at]gmail.com

N. Ramani is Visiting Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at narayan.ramani[at]gmail.com

Arun Vishwanathan is Assistant Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at arun_summerhll[at]yahoo.com


Monitoring Uranium Mining and Milling using Commercial Observation Satellites

ESARDA Bulletin, No. 53, December 2015, pp. 73-82.

Lalitha Sundaresan, Chandrashekar Srinivasan and Bhupendra Jasani

ESARDA Bulletin CoverAll the states that have signed the Additional Protocol to their Safeguards Agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will need to submit description and information specifying the location of their nuclear fuel cycle activities, including their operational and shut down uranium mines. While satellite imagery is useful for monitoring changes in the declared nuclear facilities, there has not been much discussion of using this imagery to monitor the early part of the nuclear fuel cycle namely uranium mining and milling. The availability of satellite data cost free on the Google Earth web site and commercially from various imagery providers makes it possible for analysts to make assessments concerning the nuclear fuel cycle activities of various countries of interest. The mining of uranium and its conversion through a milling process into U3O8 (yellowcake) is the first step of a complex conversion cycle that determines how the mined material will be used. Our study discusses the use of satellite imagery for identifying and monitoring uranium mining and milling activities.

To read the complete article click here

Space, War and Security – A Strategy for India

Space, War and Security – A Strategy for India

Author: S. Chandrashekar

To read the complete report click here

To cite: S. Chandrashekar.  Space, War and Security – A Strategy for India. NIAS Report No. 36-2015. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, December 2015.

Q&A with the author, Prof. S. Chandrashekar about the Report

Chandra Space ReportIn your paper you talk about the connections between space assets, nuclear weapons and conventional war. Can you tell us a bit more on how these are connected?

Ever since Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear weapons and conventional war have always been connected. The dawn of the space age through the launch of Sputnik was made possible because of the development of ICBMs. Of course missiles became the preferred delivery system for both nuclear and conventional weapons. Satellites because of their vantage point in space cover large areas on the ground. Military interests for both offence and defence have always wanted to control the high ground. Space is no exception to this desire. Space assets have always played a major role in the war strategies of major space powers.

If this were so space would have always been a contested ground. However international concerns about the weaponization of space seem to have more recent origins. What has changed in the world space order for these renewed emerging concerns?

The Cold war Period of the space age saw the emergence of what can be called the sanctuary regime in space where the desire to preserve stability and the peace limited the military uses of space to what we currently call the ISR functions where information provided by satellites maintained the peace. This also saw an international space order dominated by the USA and the USSR – who established this sanctuary regime – associated with what is even today described as the peaceful uses of outer space.

Reagan’s Star Wars initiative led to a change and conferred greater legitimacy to space weapons – that moved from testing to keeping technology options open – towards possible deployment.

The breakup of the Soviet Union and the first Gulf War which saw large scale use of space assets for both defensive and offensive weapons linked space assets more directly with war. The rise of China and its desire to counter the dominant US position in space has resulted in a number of Chinese led assymetric responses that more directly link space assets with the risks of escalating conventional war to a nuclear war. Through such approaches China hopes to deter US intervention into areas that China perceives as being vital to its national interests such as Taiwan.

This emerging China US dynamic makes the connections between space nuclear weapons and conventional war more direct and immediate. These are the changes that India needs to take into account in formulating a suitable space strategy.

What do you see as the most immediate concern for India as far as these developments are concerned?

Evidence suggests that India did not have any independent way of knowing about the Chinese ASAT test. India’s knowledge about the Yaogan military constellation especially the Chinese ELINT capability does not seem to be based on independent information and knowledge. This gap in Space Situational Awareness is not consistent with Indian aspirations as a potential key player in the current world order. India needs to bridge this gap in space capabilities as quickly as possible.

What should India do in order to improve awareness of what is happening in space?

For civilian space applications countries need to track and monitor the health of satellites. Most active satellites transmit radio signals that can be received on the ground and these can be used to fix the position of the satellite and determine its orbit. However once satellites reach their end of life they may not be able to transmit radio signals on a continuing basis. There are also spent rocket stages and a number of objects put into orbit during the commissioning of a satellite. Military testing of ASAT weapons, other experiments done in the past where particles have been released into space as well as fragments from the explosion of spent rocket stages all create debris. More recently two satellites have collided with each other creating a debris cloud. Indian facilities for tracking transmitting satellites may be adequate. However to track inactive satellites and space debris India needs long range radars, optical and laser tracking facilities located suitably so as to be able to track these objects. These are the facilities that India needs to set up.

Once these are available India would be in a position to monitor the happenings in space. By making sure it knows where the inactive satellites and larger debris objects are located, it can provide routine data to all satellite users including Indian operators on risks associated with possible collisions. It can also monitor the space activities of the major space powers especially on the military aspects of the use of space such as ASAT testing, launchings related to C4ISR functions for the military as well as other satellites used for various civilian and military functions.

To read the complete report click here

Strengthening Intelligence Gathering, Surveillance and Reconnaissance are of Vital Importance

National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)

International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)

Press Release – For Immediate Release

“Strengthening Intelligence Gathering, Surveillance and Reconnaissance are of Vital Importance”

The International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), a unique programme at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in IISc campus released four related reports on Small Satellites, Space War and Identification of Uranium Mill sites.

The four reports were released today by Dr Baldev Raj, Director of the NIAS and critiqued by Prof YS Rajan and Vice Admiral RN Ganesh. Introducing the reports, Prof Rajaram Nagappa highlighted the focus of them and their utmost importance to India’s national security. Dr Baldev Raj releasing the reports underlined the importance of the National Institute of Advanced Studies based in Bangalore but providing vital inputs and concrete recommendations to India’s security. He mentioned with pride that the NIAS is truly interdisciplinary and a cradle of good research work.

L to R (Dr. YS Rajan, Prof S. Chandrashekar, Prof Baldev Raj, Prof Rajaram Nagappa, Prof. Lalitha Sundaresan)

L to R: Dr. YS Rajan, Prof. S. Chandrashekar, Prof. Baldev Raj, Prof. Rajaram Nagappa, Prof. Lalitha Sundaresan

Dr Baldev Raj also reminded the primary objective of the NIAS founded by Dr Raja Ramanna and JRD Tata – in terms of engaging in a larger debate within and outside. “These reports are a part of that dialogue” underlined Dr Raj. He said, he has always always been fascinated by the ISSSP; he appreciated its scholars undertaking independent research work and also being successful in working together

The report titled “The Promise of Small Satellites for National Security,” authored by Prof Rajaram Nagappa provides a survey of small satellites that can be employed for military ISR requirements. The report also examines satellite and launch history of ISRO and concludes while ISRO has demonstrated technological capabilities, there is a lack of capacity in the country to meet the military space requirements. The report also carries a survey of small satellite launch vehicles and determines a launch vehicle capable of placing a small satellite of 350 kg mass in an orbit around 500 km can be configured using available rocket/missile stages in the country. The advantage of using readily available and flight-qualified stages is that the development time can be effectively reduced. For generating a faster turn around of the small satellite launch vehicle and satellites, increased industry involvement is essential.

Vice Admiral Ganesh commenting on the report said, “despite the constraints, the ISRO has gone ahead and undertaken a commendable job relating to both satellites and rockets.” According to him, the primary military requirement is for communications – imagery, surveillance, electronic warfare etc.

According to the report, one needs more frequent revisits, especially as mobile platforms like ships and other transport systems may have to be tracked.  As one would like to track such objects at night or under cloud cover conditions, one has to use optical imaging satellites as well as radar imaging satellites to get good imagery under all conditions. Electronic intelligence satellites (ELINTs) have antenna arrays to monitor electrical radiation from emitting sources. This will help in locating such sources (ships, radar stations and other such installations). The report also stresses the importance of technology. Nano-satellites in the mass range of 1-10 kg or micro-satellites in the mass range 10-100 kg or small satellites 100-1000 kg can be designed and employed for such applications. Small satellites will perhaps be more suited for the purpose of ELINT, optical and radar imaging to meet the 24×7 ISR requirements. A constellation of 15-18 satellites will be required. More satellites in the constellation can further reduce the time gap between revisits.

The second report titled “Space, War and Security: A Strategy for India” authored by Prof S Chandrashekar, presents a critical appraisal of Indian capabilities to monitor and use the space environment for various military tasks. These include Command & Control, Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance as well as a number of other space functions such as navigation and weather services. It makes a strong case for a new strategy that integrates these components into a coherent national strategy that is relevant for the country at this point in time. The formulation and implementation of such a strategy will also need a significant enhancement in capabilities to build and launch satellites. These are identified in some detail. India also needs a significant augmentation of its ground based radar and optical tracking facilities in order to monitor the happenings in space on a real time basis. Finally the report addresses the need to re-organize and restructure our entire national security complex to be aligned to this new global reality.

Two more reports, titled “Identification of Uranium Mill sites from Open Source satellite Images” & “Estimating Uranium Mill Capacity Using Satellite Pictures” authored jointly by S. Chandrashekar, Lalitha Sundaresan &  Bhupendra Jassani focus on the use of openly available satellite imagery for the identification of Uranium mills.

Its authors explained “using a sample of known Uranium mills from across the world a set of keys has been derived. These keys link observables in the satellite image (Google Earth image) with equipment and materials related to the processing of Uranium ore. Based on these features and their sequencing in the process a step by step algorithm for the identification of a Uranium mill has been worked out.”

ISSSP Reports Release Function

National Institute of Advanced Studies

Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore-12

International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)

Reports Release Function


Promise of Small Satellites for National Security
Space, War and Security – A Strategy for India
Identification of Uranium Mill Sites from Open Source Satellite Images
Estimating Uranium Mill Capacity Using Satellite Pictures

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016 at 4:15 pm, Lecture Hall, NIAS




4:00 – 4:15: Coffee/Tea
4:15 – 4:20: Welcome and Introduction of Reports by Prof. Rajaram Nagappa
4:20 – 4:30: Release of ISSSP Reports by Prof. Baldev Raj, Director, NIAS
4:30 – 5:00: ISSSP Reports: A Critique  by Vice Admiral R N Ganesh & Prof. Y S Rajan
5:00 – 5:30: Response by the Authors



Estimating Uranium Mill Capacity Using Satellite Pictures

Estimating Uranium Mill Capacity Using Satellite Pictures

Authors: S. Chandrashekar, Lalitha Sundaresan, Bhupendra Jassani

To read the complete report click here

To cite: S. Chandrashekar, Lalitha Sundaresan, Bhupendra Jassani. Estimating Uranium Mill Capacity Using Satellite Pictures. NIAS Report No. 35-2015. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, December 2015, available at http://isssp.in/estimating-uranium-mill-capacity-using-satellite-pictures/

Estimation of Uranium Mill SitesThe International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gathers and analyses safeguards relevant information about a State from:

  • a. information provided by the State party to the safeguards agreement;
  • b. safeguards activities conducted by the Agency on the ground;
  • c. open sources and third parties.

The IAEA’s analyses consists of validation of information provided by the States against information collected by the Agency under (b) and (c) including that obtained from commercial satellite imagery. Information may differ depending on whether it is acquired under a comprehensive safeguards agreement (CSA), CSA and under the Additional Protocol Agreement (APA) or that obtained on a voluntary basis.

Under the Additional Protocol Agreement, signatory states are required to provide IAEA inspectors information on all parts of the nuclear fuel cycle that include uranium mines, processing facilities, fuel fabrication & enrichment plants, nuclear waste sites as well as any other location where nuclear materials may be present. The IAEA Verification measures include on-site inspections, visits, and as well as ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

This has vastly increased the amount and type of information that States will have to provide to the IAEA. At the same time, the burden of verification has also vastly multiplied as far as the IAEA inspectors are concerned. The IAEA is therefore likely to find itself in a situation where physical verification of the declared nuclear facilities will become increasingly difficult.

Monitoring and evaluating undeclared facilities especially those related to the early parts of the nuclear fuel cycle such as uranium mining and milling also become a very important component of the verification activities. Development of newer methods and technologies that can strengthen verification protocols would therefore be very useful.

Though several studies have addressed the usefulness of satellite images for monitoring various parts of the nuclear fuel cycle4 not much work has been carried out to assess their utility for monitoring Uranium mining and milling operations.

While India is a declared nuclear weapon state the activities of her neighbours in the nuclear realm are shrouded in secrecy. This situation is often made more complicated by a lot of ambiguous information pouring in from a number of sources especially from the west. It is therefore difficult for a strategic analyst or policy researcher to make a meaningful assessment of the uranium production capacity of a country since there is very little reliable data.

Image processing specialists within the country have also not made any efforts to develop suitable algorithms that describe in detail how satellite images can be used to identify Uranium mines and mills. From a practical viewpoint there are at least two aspects of a mill operation that require attention from image analysts.

The first aspect is of course to clearly identify a mill site as a uranium mill site Several studies in the West have demonstrated that satellite images can be used to identify uranium mill sites at least to a limited extent. Building on this work, a more recent study used features associated with the various processes used for the extraction of Uranium that are visible in a satellite image for the identification of a Uranium Mill and this has been dealt exhaustively in an earlier NIAS report.

Once a mill has been identified as a Uranium Mill, it is also important to see whether methods can be developed to estimate the production capacity of such a mill. This report focuses on methods that can be used to estimate the production capacity of a Uranium mill after the mill has been identified as a Uranium producing mill. 

To read the complete report click here
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