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The education system although improving has a lot of outdated content which is of no use to the students once they graduate and there’s definitely a dearth of hands-on experience that a student gets in the ‘usual’ course.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.