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Studstat, Nano of the skies

In 2007, a group of students from the Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology, Bangalore participated in a seminar in Hyderabad. What they saw there changed their lives.

tech reviews Updated: Jul 18, 2010 01:12 IST
KV Lakshmana

In 2007, a group of students from the Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology, Bangalore participated in a seminar in Hyderabad. What they saw there changed their lives.

Inspired by a presentation by American students on small satellites, these students wanted to build their own version of the nano-satellite. Despite an interaction with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and a concrete plan, the students were laughed at when they suggested the idea to their college. That is, until they met Jharna Majumdar, a retired scientist from Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) who’d just joined the college.

"The idea that the students had, had a very simple approach to it. They wanted to design and craft a nano satellite, (nano-satellite is to a big satellite, what a palmtop is to a computer). And whilst the ISRO scientists were constantly in touch with the students to monitor, it was completely their effort that saw us through this project," says Majumdar, an IIT Kharagpur graduate, who spent 20 years with the DRDO. "And the satellite has been designed to do almost everything that big satellites do — help in agriculture, predict weather and with data collection."

At the end of their effort, Studsat, the nano satellite, was launched on July 12 aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle C15 at Sriharikota in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh, some 600 km north of Bangalore. The fact that the satellite was designed completely by students and funded by private colleges in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh made it possible to complete the project at a fraction of the cost of a big satellite.

Mad money

Despite a Rs 5 lakh grant from the Karnataka State Science Department, most of the money came from college funds, with contributions by the colleges ranging from Rs 3 lakh to R 4.5 lakh. This was the first time ever that institutions other than IITs and IISc had succeeded at a project this large. It also signified the government’s change of heart.

Which is why ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishanan has now said that the next step was to extend the experiment and tap the country’s talented scientific brains. "We also want to launch several such nano satellites made by different colleges and interlink them to see their collective impact," said Radhakrishanan.

Even then, Studsat’s single largest accomplishment has been to show the government that a satellite can be built for less than Rs 1 crore. "We built the satellite for Rs 55 lakh and a ground station for about Rs 45 lakh," says Chetan Angdi, one of the 40 students who were a part of the project.

At ground level today, the students can’t stop beaming. It’s a story that could not have been more successful. Collectively, they believe that they have made an impact on the scientific advancement in the country. And for the rest of the week, all they want to do is track the Studsat, collect, collate, interpret and analyse the data that their ‘baby’ is finding.