Friday, July 30, 2010


Pico Satellite - The "StudSat"!

12th July, 9:22AM, Sriharikota!
-10 -9 -8 -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4...
and there was a mega scale Deepavali in the sky! We all shouted and cheered. Within no time 'it' shot into the clouds and almost disappeared. Very common to hear, but not so common to watch live with bear eyes.
Don't know whether you guessed it, I am talking about the PSLV - C15 rocket.
The view was from Shar Hospital terrace at Sriharikota island. No one is allowed within 5km radius from the launchpad, not even the scientists and technologists, because we need them for next time. 3000 deg centigrade temperature and 180dB sound is not a joke you see. That is what is produced when a satellite launch vehicle is burnt.

What was I doing at Sriharikota? Well, it was not a coincidence.

PSLV carried 5 satellites into the orbit on that day, one of which was a pico-satellite (satellite weighing less than a kg), by name "StudSat" (Stud for Student and Sat for Satellite). I can say, StudSat is first of its kind in India, because the satellite portion was conceptualized, designed and managed by undergraduate students of south India, in particular, seven colleges from Karnataka and Andhrapradesh. One of them happens to be RVCE. Leading institute was NMIT (Nitte Minakshi Institute of Technology), Yelahanka. The 35 member StudSat team had built it from zero, taking minimal support from ISRO. Interesting fact is, none of these are IITs or NITs. It is all the more impressive when you note that a few of the colleges in the 7 college consortium are not even well-known to even people working in the educational field. 4 of the team members are the students whom I taught during Feb 09 to Dec 09.! Hence when they asked me to come along to watch, I gladly joined.

Before anyone assumes anything, let me state that I have clearly done nothing except dropping a few encouraging words here and there occasionally. I remember that initially when I heard about it from the RVCE EC HOD, I did not give it a serious thought. It was a bit difficult to digest that some of my kidlike fourth semester students think that they can make a satellite which will rotate around the earth and send a few pictures and telemetry data.

The satellite resembles a small cube of size (10 cm x 10 cm x 13.5 cm), weighing just about 850 gm having a volume of 1.1 liters. The satellite has been launched in 700 km Sun-synchronous orbit. The satellite was supposed to perform the function of a remote sensing satellite and take images of earth's surface with a resolution of 90 metres, the best achieved by any "PICO" category satellite in the world. The satellite consists of the following subsystems:

* Communication sub-system.
* Power generation and distribution sub-system.
* Attitude Determination and Control sub-system.
* On Board Command and Data Handling.
* Payload (Camera).
* Mechanical Structure.

A Ground Station has been designed in order to communicate with the satellite. The Ground Station NASTRAC (Nitte Amateur Satellite Tracking Centre) which is established in NMIT was inaugurated by Dr K. Radhakrishnan, the current chairman of ISRO. All the above subsystems are designed by students.

The main aim of the project was to give exposure to the students. I think it got served, because I could see a clear difference in the way these students think. At the same time I would also caution them against not getting carried away by their achievement. As far as technical status is concerned, initially it was sending beacons (crudely speaking: beacon means small frames indicating the whether various blocks/software are functional) which were received at ground station. Even telemetry data was received soon within a week of the launch. Best they could hope for was to receive a few images, but that has not happened so far and the latest news is that even the beacons have stopped. In my view, there is no need to focus on the results much. We should encourage the students towards aiming high, in such a case as this, literally aiming to the sky!

I would have loved to write more. But I am slightly tied up for time. I would like to congratulate my students: Punarva, Prithvi, Darshan and Raghu for their dedicated efforts.

Note: If you need any information/want to personally congratulate, you can email them at their gmail IDs respectively:, prithvirajnarendra, darshanrvec, raghunow

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