From the Financial Times (via Slashdot):
India will tomorrow inaugurate a new launch pad at its Satish Dhawan space port near Chennai, on the south-east coast, by putting the world's first stereographic mapping satellite into orbit.
The most innovative feature of the 1.6-tonne Cartosat-1 is its pair of cameras, which will give stereo images of the earth's surface that can distinguish features down to 2.5 metres across. They will directly generate three-dimensional maps that have until now been achievable only indirectly, by combining data from a large number of satellite passes over the same place.
"Such a stereographic imaging system does not exist in the civil sector anywhere else," says Mr Nair, chairman of the Bangalore-based Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). "It will give information about heights that will be very useful in applications such as planning power lines."
And here's the kicker (emphasis mine):
Although India attracted worldwide headlines last year with its decision to send a probe to the moon in 2007-08, its achievements so far have been in earth's orbit, with missions designed primarily to "bring the benefits of high technology to the people and particularly the poor people of India".
The data are used in agriculture, water planning, urban development, mineral prospecting, drought and disaster relief, and various environmental applications. In areas where Isro advises villagers where to dig new wells, for example, satellite-based hydrological mapping has raised the average success rate in finding clean water from 30 to 90 per cent, Mr Nair says.
[India | ISRO]