Ignited by their maiden success in placing a tiny satellite in the polar orbit early this week, its young pioneers are raring to launch two more satellites into space.
“The successful launch and placing of our first pico-satellite (StudSat) in the earth's lower orbit has inspired us to build two similar satellites for the next launch,” the project's core member G. Kartik told reporters in Bangalore.
Riding piggy back on India's advanced remote sensing satellite Cartosat-2B and three other satellites, the 850-gm cubical StudSat was launched onboard the polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV-C15) on Monday by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) from its spaceport Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, about 80 km northeast of Chennai.
“We were thrilled to see the 44-metre tall rocket soaring into a clear sky with our first experimental satellite as the smallest payload and were excited when we learnt that it was successfully placed in the designated polar sun synchronous orbit 630 km away from the earth, 22 minutes after a perfect lift-off,” Kartik recalled.
Kartik, who graduated in B.E. (mechanical) this year from Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology (NMIT) in this tech hub, is part of the 14-member core team, which designed and built the satellite with a CMOS camera in it and four small solar panels mounted on it to generate energy for orbiting over the next 12 months.
The complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) is a chip that holds data without external power source.
“Our joy knew no bounds when we received the first signal from StudSat at 11.02 am, about 70 minutes after the launch, at the ground station we have set up in the institute campus. Since then, we are getting the beacon signal all the time to indicate that the satellite's health parameters are normal,” project leader Chetan Angadi said.
The country's first pico-satellite project team was formed in January 2009 as a consortium with about 40 under-graduates from four engineering colleges from Karnataka and three from Andhra Pradesh under the aegis of the state-run Indian space agency.
“The objective of the project was to educate college students about space technology and encourage them to build mini satellites with the required infrastructure, including a communication link and a ground station to capture the images of the earth with a 90-metre resolution and receive the telemetry data,” Kartik said.
Though StudSat is orbiting over the earth's twin polar regions (north and south) and crosses Bangalore four-five times a day, emitting the signal at a frequency of 437.05 megahertz (MHz), it is yet to stabilise in the sun synchronous orbit to switch on its camera.
“When the camera is switched on after the satellite's solar panels are fully charged by next week, it will perform remote sensing and capture images of the surface of the earth with the 90-metre resolution, which will be the best achieved by any pico-satellite in the world,” said Angadi, a B.E. graduate in electronics.
The images will be able to determine the conditions of the landmass, its vegetation, moisture content or dryness in the soil for agriculture and other farming activity.
As the country's smallest operational satellite, StudSat gave the students hands-on experience in space technology and to design, fabricate and build it under the supervision of ISRO project director for small satellites D.V.A. Raghava Murthy.
“The satellite was built at a cost of Rs.55 lakh and the support infrastructure to track and monitor it at Rs.60 lakh. Our institute (NMIT) funded the entire project cost,” Angadi said.
Going forward, many of the members associated with the project have decided to continue with the institute to build the next two satellites that will have two-three additional instruments for astronomical, atmospheric and terrestrial studies, including terrain mapping.
“We will begin work on the next project after StudSat becomes fully operational and stabilises in its functions. Though designed with a six-month life span, we are hoping it will last at least a year,” Kartik added.