In a first, a small satellite designed and built by Brown University students was launched into the space, and leading the power team of the coveted project was a student from Pune. The satellite, dubbed EQUiSat, was flown aboard in an Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday (May 20).
The project is significant as the team dodged innumerable challenges to build a satellite right from scratch, as the “Brown team wanted to build a satellite that could be reproduced for less than $5,000,” the university website said.
The solar panels were a major challenge, said Anand Lalwani, a BSE member and the only Indian in the team, who currently leads the satellite’s power team. The integral panels are made from scrap gallium arsenic solar cells. The manufacturer trims large solar cells to size, and these cutoffs are sold to the team for only $4 a cell.
“The problem is these are very, very delicate,” Lalwani, the 22-year-old from Pune was quoted saying on the website. “If you just touch one with your fingernail, it breaks,” he added.
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To find the right mix of chemicals — that could be applied uniformly with no bubbles and would sustain in the space — was one of the major obstacles that the team had to overcome. In the vacuum of space, bubbles would quickly expand and the coating would fail, Lalwani explained.
— BSE (@BrownCubeSat) May 20, 2018
According to reports, the average cost for a satellite of this size ranges from $50,000-$ 100,000, whereas the EQUiSat was made as a cost less than $4000. “The materials cost for EQUiSat is $3776.61, to be exact,” said Hunter M. Ray, a senior engineering concentrator and the team’s project manager.
— BSE (@BrownCubeSat) March 19, 2018
The launch was part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which aims to provide students and members from non-profit organisations for space researches. Since 2011, the student-led Brown Space Engineering (BSE) group had been busy designing, building and testing a small satellite — and then finally, in 2014, NASA agreed to provide space on a rocket for the 4-inch cube that was recently launched from Wallops Island, Virginia.
— Ricky Arnold (@astro_ricky) May 24, 2018
Lalwani graduated from Brown University with B.Sc Hons in Engineering Physics and is currently studying Semiconductor Engineering at Stanford School of Engineering. He did his schooling from Symbiosis International school in Pune and did his higher education from Mahindra untied world college, Pune.