`Stu­dent satel­lites are more than lab ex­per­i­ments'

Down to Earth - - TECHNOLOGY -

DVARAGHAVA MURTHY, direc­tor, Earth Ob­ser­va­tions Sys­tems, was the project direc­tor of Small Satel­lite Pro­jects at ISRO Satel­lite Cen­tre between 2006 and 2013. He shares his views on the po­ten­tial of small satel­lites de­vel­oped by stu­dents in In­dia

STUDsat, SRMSat and Jugnu are great achieve­ments by In­dian stu­dents. Should th­ese be taken in the same spirit as lab ex­per­i­ments, or did they have a mis­sion to ac­com­plish af­ter be­ing

launched into space?

Th­ese can­not be equated to lab­o­ra­tory ex­per­i­ments. The satel­lites are not just con­cep­tu­alised, but are made from scratch to fully func­tional stage by stu­dents. It is a huge chal­lenge for sec­ond- and third-year BTech stu­dents, given their limited knowl­edge and pres­sure of aca­demics. By work­ing on such a project, stu­dents get trained not just in their own dis­ci­pline, but also in sev­eral in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary ar­eas. It is a great in­tro­duc­tion to the con­cept of sys­tems en­gi­neer­ing, where stu­dents learn about the func­tion­ing of a com­plete en­gi­neer­ing sys­tem.

In terms of im­part­ing train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion, I would say, the ob­jec­tive is at­tained com­pletely. Though inor­bit suc­cess may not have been 100 per cent in ev­ery case.

Nu­mer­ous small satel­lites are launched into space ev­ery year. How are the traf­fic- and de­bris-re­lated is­sues be­ing han­dled?

So far no event of de­bris col­li­sion in space has been re­ported. Satel­lites that break into pieces for some rea­son fall out of their or­bits and end up mov­ing ran­domly through space. Th­ese pieces are more likely to en­ter a col­li­sion. Glob­ally, the idea of equip­ping satel­lites with the tech­nol­ogy to de-or­bit them af­ter the mis­sion ob­jec­tives are achieved is gain­ing mo­men­tum. It is cer­tainly bet­ter to use satel­lites es­pe­cially de­signed to de-or­bit.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, many star­tups have sprouted around the idea of putting small satel­lites to com­mer­cial use. What is the scene in In­dia?

So far, I have not come across any such startup in In­dia. But I am hope­ful.

What are the key chal­lenges in mak­ing such small satel­lites, es­pe­cially for stu­dents?

Or­gan­is­ing the team can be a big chal­lenge. Mak­ing the stu­dents ready for the project is an­other chal­lenge, af­ter all they are not full-fledged en­gi­neers yet.

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