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ISRO to launch student satellite Pratham

After a delay of almost eight years, the satellite will be launched this year, giving wings to a dream long-nurtured by at least seven batches of students of IIT Bombay.

Written by Priyanka Sahoo | Mumbai |
Updated: September 12, 2016 8:21:42 am
ISRO, Mumbai, IIT bombay, IIT, pratham, satellite, student satellite, first student satellite, space research organisation, india news, indian express The project team members of the satellite. (Source: Pratham members)

Six students from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) are working at the satellite centre of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Bengaluru this weekend, busy with the pre-launch of Pratham, the institute’s first student satellite.

After a delay of almost eight years, the satellite will be launched this year, giving wings to a dream long-nurtured by at least seven batches of students.

The satellite, developed by IIT-B students, will be launched as a piggyback with the ISRO’s ScatSat PSLV. “The date of the launch will be announced shortly,” said Deviprasad Karnik, director, public relations, ISRO. The students have been given a deadline to be ready by September 26.

The satellite was conceptualised by two students of the Aerospace Engineering department—Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay and Shashank Tamaskar — in July 2007. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed with ISRO in September 2009, and later extended in 2014.

At present, the team comprises 30 students, of whom nine form the core team. As the satellite prepares for launch, the team waits with bated breath. “We are very excited. The dream of many years is going to be true,” said Manvi Dhawan, one of the two project managers. Having spent over three years on the project, despite graduating this year, Manvi is as enthused as the current students. Ratnesh Mishra, the other Project Manager, is already at ISAC Bangalore.

“The satellite has performed well in all the tests. We are now waiting for the moment when the PSLV will lift off with it,” said Manvi. “Of course, we are nervous about things that can not be in our control,” she added.
The satellite, with dimensions 30.5cm X 33.5cm X 46.6cm and weighing around 10kg, will measure the total electron count of the ionosphere.

The plan is to spread awareness among students about aerospace engineering and satellite data will be transmitted to any university with a small ground station. Currently, 15 Indian universities are setting up their own ground stations. Atharva College in Mumbai already has one.

“Apart from detecting the exact GPS location, Pratham will also help predict tsunamis,” said Sumit Jain, another core team member and a fourth-year Mechanical Engineering student.

ISRO, Mumbai, IIT bombay, IIT, pratham, satellite, student satellite, first student satellite, space research organisation, india news, indian express The satellite, developed by IIT-B students, will be launched as a piggyback with the ISRO’s ScatSat PSLV. (Source: Pratham members)

Yash Sanghvi, a fourth-year student of an integrated MTech in Mechanical Engineering course, said Tuesdays and Fridays were dedicated to team meetings, where they would take stock of the week’s work and set future deadlines. “After our regular classes, we would meet at the lab around 8pm and work till 2am,” he said.

ISRO has not only provided the students with facilities for testing, it will also bear the expenses of the launch.
Working with ISRO scientists has not been challenging. “The scientists at ISRO understandably work on a zero-error policy. So we, too, were expected to work with precision,” said Harshad Jalan, the youngest member of the team. “There were times when after spending around 30 hours at a stretch in the ISRO lab, we would have only an hour to solve a problem,” said Harshad, a third year Metallurgical Engineering student.

Another challenge was the dynamic nature of the team. “Team members changed every semester,” said Manvi. Every bit of the work had to be documented so it could be passed on to new members. “We recruited members through a written test and an interview. Teams were assigned parts of the satellite work. The best performers were then inducted to the core team,” said Manvi. The experience came with a bounty of learning. “Our skills as experimentalists have improved. We have learnt to work within deadlines,” said Yash. The first-hand mentoring from ISRO scientists was a privilege too, he said.

Ashtesh Kumar, a final year integrated MTech student, said the project helped them understand the interdependencies of different sub-systems.

“Control system was the most interesting part. All of us wanted a hang of it,” said Manvi, who has worked in several subsystems before becoming the project manager.

Hemendra Arya, the professor mentoring the team, said: “Watching the students present their case and convince the ISRO scientists during the review meetings, I felt extremely proud.”

According to Arya, Pratham’s success depends on three factors— 90 per cent depended on ISRO’s approval, five per cent has been assigned to the data collected by the satellite and the rest five depends on whether the satellite lives up to its expected life cycle of four months.

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