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IIT-B readies to go into orbit

While most students at the Indian Institute of Technology- Bombay (IIT-B) campus enjoyed their weekend off, for ten students it was filled with nervous anticipation. Kiran Wadhwa reports.

mumbai Updated: Sep 26, 2011 01:02 IST
Kiran Wadhwa
Kiran Wadhwa
Hindustan Times

While most students at the Indian Institute of Technology- Bombay (IIT-B) campus enjoyed their weekend off, for ten students it was filled with nervous anticipation.

They are working on Pratham, India’s first student satellite project. In its final testing phase, the students have now created a virtual simulation of space to see if the satellite systems work. Once it passes this test, the satellite will be ready for launch.

But on Sunday, halfway through the test, there was a glitch and the team is back at work.

“We will resolve the glitch and run the test again,” said Johnny Jha, project manager of Pratham. The project has seen its shares of glitches and the disillusionment that follows, but the team stuck on and today, after four years, Pratham is IIT-B’s longest-running student project.

“There have been some difficult times. We were the first student satellite in the country and after us five more projects started, of which one was launched too, and everyone on campus talked about it and asked us where our project was going,” added Jha.

Pratham was the brainchild of two students — Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay and Shashank Tamaskar — who are now pursing PhDs in the US. They mentored their juniors to take over the project after they passed out.

“Pratham is the only initiative that has been passed on from batch to batch. So, even the attrition rate is high where new students join it for a few weeks and then leave,” said Sanyam Mulay, who has worked on Pratham for the past three years and referred to as Satellite on campus.

Pratham will record the electron count of the ionosphere, which can be used for tsunami alerts and also to increase the accuracy of Global Positioning System in India.

The project has come a long way in the past four years. Started at a time when the institute had no background in space technology, today the project has a dedicated laboratory, an MOU with ISRO for the launch, a tie-up with a French education institute to give them data, and 15 ground stations in colleges across the country and one station in France.

Over the years the project has seen participation from about 100 students from within the institute and about 200 from outside the institute.

The project took off with funding from the institute’s aerospace engineering department and is now funded by agencies such as ISRO, Aerospace Engineers Association and Boeing

“This project has been our life for the past four years. We almost live in the lab. Once it is over, I will not know what to do for some time. There will be a void in all our lives” said Deepika Thakur, the only girl left in the team.

“Apart from launching it, the project also aims at engaging students across campuses. We hold workshops for students and our ground stations in colleges are run and created by students,” added Thakur.

Hoping to launch it in the next six months, students already have their victory moment planned. “The French institute we have tied up with has gifted us a bottle of expensive French wine. Just after Pratham is launched we will open that bottle,” said Jha.

First Published: Sep 26, 2011 01:01 IST