Great Leap for Mankind – Satellite launched by students !

We are living in the space age where big institutions in the space industry are making large strides in the development of space technology. But one wonders why this field does not have the kind of rapid development we see in areas like consumer electronics. We don’t see newer versions of rockets or radically different satellites being flown every year like the iPhones and Droids. Why? It’s because usually these large institutions are answerable to the government and the citizens as they utilize the tax payer’s money for their endeavours. So they have to be doubly or triply sure that each and every minute component works to the required specification and cannot afford to have issues like the death-grip on iPhone 4 because they cannot be fixed easily in space.

Now the situation has changed with several universities around the world launching their own satellites. What is the reason for this recent development? For the same reason that  we are able to have the same or better user experience and computational capability in the palm of our hand for even lesser moolah than a combination of bulky CRT monitor, towering CPU and modem with dial up connection from a decade ago. It’s the drastic decrease in both the prices and size of electronic components. Now, students are able to put together all the subsystems of a 1000 kg satellite in a cube of 10 cm and still have space for a payload, at a fraction of cost and development time. A smaller satellite means the budget for developing it is within the reach of a single college or group of colleges, the development time is shorter, the satellite can be developed by one or two batches of students and a relatively smaller team is involved. How will this development shape the future of academic institutions and the space industry?

The education system although improving has a lot of outdated content which is of no use to the students once they graduate and there’s definitely a dearth of hands-on experience that a student gets in the ‘usual’ course. The knowledge acquired from college courses is just the foundation for a satellite development project and it’s near impossible for students to develop a satellite all by themselves. This is where the advice and feedback from professors, scientists and engineers from various universities, research institutes and industries comes in. Students get to rub shoulders with experts, get experience in using the latest technologies and have their satellites tested and qualified under the same roof as bigger mainstream satellites. Student satellite missions provide a platform for the collaboration of many academic institutions and research organizations, bridging the gap between academia, research organisations and industry. Students get an excellent opportunity to get their hands dirty working on something practical for a definite purpose in the whole grand scheme of making a satellite rather than making a circuit to get a particular waveform in a laboratory class. A satellite mission is an interdisciplinary mission involving almost all the engineering streams and many a times students in different parts of the country work for a common goal. Successful inter-disciplinary and inter-collegiate participation and cooperation are essential for the progress of projects of this kind of magnitude. In these projects the meaning of ‘team work’ is taken to a whole new level. These are the projects where students can improve in both the technical and managerial aspects, experience working in a multilevel hierarchical team and learn the professional etiquette and soft skills required for effectively and effortlessly interacting, as well as presenting in various conferences, seminars and competitions.

Well it’s obvious by now that these projects promote awareness about space in the student community and that the students involved in these projects get enormous experience in space missions, spacecraft designing, implementation and testing. This will create pool of students who are knowledgeable and experienced in both the theoretical and practical aspects of space technology and also full of fresh ideas and enthusiasm. These students are the need of the hour for sustaining and improving the momentum of the already successful space program of the country. Student satellite missions are excellent tools for experimental research. Researchers from various organizations in designing experiments that can be carried out inexpensively in these small satellites and students would be more than happy to put these experimental payloads on their satellites. New designs and payloads for upcoming satellites and missions can be tested and qualified using these small satellites as the risk factor is comparatively less. Thus newer technologies can be adopted by space programs much more quickly after validation in the student satellite missions.

AnuSAT launched on 20th April 2009 by Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C-12 became the first satellite developed by Indian students to be put in orbit. This 40 kg microsatellite of a cube of 60 cm had a data store and forward payload. India’s first pico-satellite STUDSAT-1 (an abbreviation of STUDent SATellite) was launched on 12th July 2010 by PSLV C15 and carried a payload of a monochrome CMOS camera capable of capturing images of a resolution of 95 m. This cute little satellite weighing around a kilogram and having a volume of 1.1 litre was designed, developed, integrated, tested and qualified by a team of undergraduate students from seven engineering colleges from Bengaluru and Hyderbad. In the recent launch of PSLV C18, two indigenous student-developed satellites SRMSAT and Jugnu were successfully put in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and have been successfully tracked by many ground stations including STUDSAT project’s affiliated Nitte Amateur Satellite Tracking Centre (NASTRAC). Students of many universities such as Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B), Satyabhama University, Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT) and the college consortium of Project STUDSAT-2 are in the process of developing their satellites. I hope students from many more colleges take part in similar projects with the support of their colleges and that the workhorse of ISRO, PSLV, has the privilege of carrying at least one satellite developed by Indian students in  its ever-successful missions.

I think I’ve painted a very rosy picture about this whole idea of making a student satellite. Having worked in the STUDSAT program, let me tell you it’s not a cakewalk, especially doing your course work in parallel. But that’s the point; you’ll have to put in your time and energy to make such magic happen. And if your passion is in such technical and geeky stuff, you’ll enjoy each and every moment of it. And as my favourite band Linkin Park puts it most appropriately “The journey is more important than the end or the start”.

This article was originally written by PrithviRaj Narendra – a member of teamstudsat. To reach PrithviRaj or if you have anything to add, leave your comments below.

Preparing development machines for building Android 4.0 – Gentlemen ICS is a beast !

The day ICS(Ice Cream Sandwich – Android 4.0) will be made open-source is not too far. Once it is out, developers around the world(including OEMs like HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericcson) will start building the source code and start rolling out the update for android devices. But what bewilders me is the need for workstations with no lesser than 16 GB RAM to build the source code(I am not kidding). Ice Cream Sandwich is a Vampire😉 that requires twice the amount of blood that GingerBread needed.

If you want to build Ice Cream Sandwich from AOSP(Android Open Source Project), these are the preliminary numbers that you should be looking at,

  • 6GB of download.
  • 25GB disk space to do a single build.
  • 80GB disk space to build all AOSP configs at the same time.
  • 16GB RAM recommended, more preferred, anything less will measurably benefit from using an SSD.
  • 5+ hours of CPU time for a single build, 25+ minutes of wall time, as measured on a workstation (dual-E5620 i.e. 2x quad-core 2.4GHz HT, with 24GB of RAM, no SSD).
Never had I imagined that ICS would require such heavy-duty machines to build. Folks, its time to upgrade your machines !

Let’s talk design, ICS and the contribution of Matias Duarte to the mobile world.

Ice Cream SandwichToday let us talk about Matias Duarte – the design guru behind the look and feel of Ice Cream Sandwich, a brief history of how he influenced UI/UX on mobile devices and finally some discussion about ICS.

Matias Duarte, is one of those revolutionary designers who makes us remember Dieter Rams (Design Legend who worked at Braun) and Jonathan Ive (Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple) and how their design affected the world. Matias took the mobile experience to the whole new level when he worked on WebOS for Palm. When he introduced the design of webOS at the 2009 CES , we got a hint of the future of mobile OSs.

Have a look at it…

WebOS based on linux had an  UI which was much ahead of its time. But palm didn’t do well in the market and eventually HP acquired it. Matias left Palm, joined Google and started working on improving UI of the powerful but crappy looking Android OS. We saw what he was capable of when Android 3.0 – Honeycomb was released.

Every product/device/software should have a wow factor which makes people love it. Let us now see what is it which makes a platform great and where android stands.

What can make people love the device and go craaazy about it?

  • Yes, power and scalability of a platform.
  • Yes, the number of apps in the AppStore/Market matters.
  • Yes, the device needs a good hardware.

But it isn’t complete if the OS doesn’t make users love what they can do on it and how well they do it.

Android had the power and scalability. It was customizable and free with tons of apps. But it wasn’t magical! Google saw the shortcomings in Android, and implemented most of its innovative ideas in Ice Cream Sandwich. As a result, android now has the simplicity which a normal user needs. The power and customizability that a geek needs . And the subtle features/animations and the graphical perfection which a design freak needs. By this android is targeting more and more people.

Let us now discuss some of the new and cool things in ICS.

  • Multi tasking and app management has been simplified.
    This is inspired by WebOS card style multitasking. WebOS was the leader in the way an OS handles multitasking and the simplicity of using it. Now Android has something similar.
  • Face Unlock.
    Google recently acquired a facial recognition company, PittPatt. This acquisition helped them build face unlock which makes accessing phone much more faster.
  • Android Beam.
    This NFC based technology makes sharing much more easier.
  • Camera
    The camera app is now super-fast and ICS now has a slick photo editor built right into the OS. You can add various hipster effects to the photos with few taps. iOS guys, it’s like Instagram integrated into Camera App.
  • Swipe/slide gesture has been used throughout the OS for deleting and switching screen.
    Swipe is the most intuitive gesture for a human being when dealing with stacked things. This has been very well utilized in ICS and used throughout the OS.

We just mentioned a few of the many features added in ICS. All these features have definitely taken android to the next level. But all is not well in Android world. It still has fragmentation issue. Since android supports wide range of devices, app support and performance varies from device to device. Also many of the apps in Android are of low quality (Some have bad UI choices. While some are coded with just functionality in mind and aren’t optimized which makes the battery drain much faster).

Check out this interesting video from Engadget where Joshua Topolsky is interviewing Matias Duatre and they discuss about tablets, design and future of android.

Here’s the video of ICS event.

Ice Cream Sandwich on Tablets – A Preview

Ice Cream Sandwich was supposed to bring a unified experience to phones and tablets alike. There was just one tiny problem. There was nary a mention of tablets running ICS in the event yesterday. This had me very worried that ICS wasn’t even going to run on tablets. Just hearing the way it was worded made me worry. “Bringing a unified experience to phones and tablets alike” doesn’t necessarily mean a unified version number. To put my fears to rest (and get some sleep) I loaded up the clunky emulator and downloaded the latest packages. Before I even had time to get mad at the emulator, I had my answer.

Long before “The Verge” ever found this out, I had my answer. Yes, it is plenty compatible with a tablet. Not only is it compatible, it looks great. The added feature set is pretty small, but there are a few that will really help your Xoom, Galaxy Tab, or whatever you have. The main effort of ICS was giving the phone most of Honeycomb’s features. Here are some of the most notable features given to tablets:

Browser Enhancements

You will notice that the tablet-sized browser in ICS remains almost the same. However, the menu reveals the gems. You get “save page for offline reading” and “request desktop site”. Finally! No longer will you have to suffer through mobile sites on that giant 10″ screen you have. Obviously, the major effect will be in the completely revamped phone side browser. Did I mention the “request desktop site” button? Yeah, it’s pretty cool.

New Apps

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how the new Gmail looks on a tablet because I was working with a Google-stripped emulator. There are other apps to look at. You have the people (contacts) app now. It’s set to make you super social all in one place. Most of the other new apps are Google apps, so just assume anything new on phones will also be there for the tablet. These new apps look slick regardless.

Enhanced UI

All of the unified swipes that were bragged about in the ICS launch are now present in the tablet space. This includes the recent apps tray. All you have to do to clear out a recent app is slide it away just like in WebOS. I’m sure this functionality is available in other places, but I could not find out because the emulator is slower than molasses on a cold January day. The same animations and widgets in the app drawer are here as well. There really isn’t an awful lot new since most of the design started in Honeycomb.


The setting panel seems to have had a complete redo. Everything is divided up into four groups: wireless & networks, device, personal, and system. An interesting gem is to be found under the personal group. There’s an option to backup and restore. I’m not sure if this means that there will indeed be a full device backup built into Android or not. The only option found in this menu is to restore the device to factory settings. If there is indeed a backup option baked into ICS, where have you been all my life? The much raved about data usage tracking is also in the setting in all of its glory.


If you’re one of the six million people out there that has a Honeycomb tablet, there is good news for you. ICS may have been more about porting Honeycomb’s feature to phones, but there are plenty of tablet goodies mixed in there as well. I, for one, am more excited about the Galaxy Nexus than I am about ICS on my Xoom, but either way has me giddy with joy. How do you feel about the whole thing?

Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich it is!

Nexus Prime Galaxy nexus

We got everything right even before the clock struck 10 am in Hong kong. It was fun to be one of the first to knower of Android 4.0. We will first see the flagship device galaxy nexus and later see the highlights of Ice Cream Sandwich update.
Screen size: 4.65 inches. Well you may think this is a giant screen for a phone. But here is the thing, unlike other android phones this beauty will not have the capacitive touch buttons for back, home and menu. These “virtual” buttons come up on the screen and they disappear when not required to make room. That is fantastic, more space for movie, games and reading !

Resolution: 1280×768 HD, Super Amoled. This is “the most colorful display on the market” and has the “highest contrast ratio.”(100,000:1). It is like having a movie theater in your hand. The screen has a lag less than 0.01ms, we are talking about crystal clear display during gaming.

Processor: 1.2 ghz dual core


Camera: 5MegaPixels, with 1080p HD Recording. Zero Lag shutter speed.

Connectivity : LTE and HSPA+. Depending on the local needs of a geographical location, the corresponding variant will be made available.

Body: It’s about 9mm in thickness. The bezel is 4.3 mm thick. The backside of the phone is a “hyperskin”- a soft texture for better grip.

Yes, this phone is an absolutely stunning design. This is probably the best phone that Samsung has ever made.


Ice Cream Sandwich

Now let us get to the interesting part, shall we ?

Let us start with lock screen. It looks pretty neat and solid. The taskbar has not changed much though.

Droid Sans font is gone. The new font for android is ROBOTO.

Everybody loves Gmail, ICS guarantees that you get the best out of it.

The Recent App button which we first saw in Honeycomb is functional in ICS too, but with a nice thumbnail preview of the app.

Camera app has undergone drastic change, you can now take pictures with your phone at faster rate. Within a second the device ready for another shoot. The image is divided in to grid and it lets you easily focus on a specific portion. There is a panorama feature too. The pictures in the gallery are arranged much more sensibly. How is that ? Well, android can recognize human faces and the gallery sorts pictures by face !

Google has put people at the center of ICS and hence we have a people app. You get a simple list (with you at the top), but swipe to the side and you get a photo grid. Tap on any of them and you can get all the details for that person, including all the various social connections including Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.

Screen Grabber: Taking a snapshot got a lot easier, you don’t need a dedicated app for that anymore.

Android Beam: This is a whole new way to exchange stuff between devices. It is NFC based. You touch two phone and boom, information exchanged. You can exchange Cards, Webpages, locations, contacts and many other things.

Wrap Up

For the first time, I was excited about an android update, from software stand point. Primarily because, the new UI is elegant, simple to use and beautiful. Just software is not good enough, you need hardware that acts as foundation. Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus will give a run for money.