After successfully building racing cars that can navigate through muddy terrain and designing unmanned aerial vehicles meant for dropping supplies in areas hit by natural calamities, some engineering students from the city are conquering a new frontier — space.
Last week, a team of students from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) handed over Pratham, a ‘microsatellite’ designed by them, to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which will launch the satellite into space at the end of this month.
Over the next few days, some of the students will test the satellite with scientists at Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, from where the satellite will be launched.
The Rs1.5-crore project started in 2008, when a few IITians came up with the idea of building their own satellite. They presented their project plan to Isro, which reviewed it and agreed to help them design and launch it in space for free. Subsequently, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between IIT-B and ISRO.
However, the project was delayed after it hit a few roadblocks. “In 2010, the project was almost completed, but many members graduated and left the institute. The satellite was in the cold storage for a couple of years, as the duration of the MoU came to an end in 2011, and more students graduated,” said Manvi Dhawan, a member of the team who graduated this year.
In 2012, after ISRO asked IIT-B if it wants to continue with the project, the institute decided to form a fresh team of students to design Pratham and a new MoU was signed with ISRO. To overcome the challenge of students leaving the institute and the project once they graduate, the Pratham team has been bringing new students on board every semester.
In the same year, IIT-B started working on its ‘microsatellite’. It had held a workshop in a bid to collaborate with other colleges in their space endeavour. The colleges were motivated to build their own ground stations — the terrestrial radio station to communicate with the satellites. One of the colleges which eventually started building a ground station was Atharva College of Engineering in Malad.
For two years, a team of students from the college did the research work required for building a ground station at the college terrace. In the next two years, they set up antennae and the station was finally inaugurated in 2012.
With the uncertainty prevailing over IIT-B’s Pratham, the students at Atharva College of Engineering decided to design their own satellite. It took them four years to complete APSARHA-1, a balloon satellite. “We have already tested the satellite and are awaiting the government’s nod for its launch,” said Pragnesh Panchal, a graduate, who has worked on the project for three years.
Meanwhile, the Atharva College of Engineering team has successfully established contact with SWAYAM, the satellite made by students of College of Engineering Pune, which ISRO launched in space in June . The space agency is helping four other colleges in country with their satellite projects.