So where does India stand in this era when Technology, Digitalization, Mars Missions, AI, SpaceX, Crypto-Currency etc. rule the day? Does the youth of India have the ability to become flag bearers of the technological revolution in the country?
They call themselves “budding technocrats” and they admit that they have taken upon themselves the “herculean task” of venturing into creating a space satellite for India. The task does not seem that hard when they make the headlines. Today we introduce you to the Student Satellite Team of VSSUT Burla. Let’s know from them what their experiences have been like and what plans they have for India.
Q: To refer to anything which is complicated we always use the phrase “this is not rocket science” because we assume that nothing can get more complicated than rocket science! Why did you choose this domain?
A: This is a long story which began more than 2 years ago, in the summer of 2016. A group of like-minded people set out to create a revolution in Innovative Technology. It was the Diamond Jubilee year of our University (60 years), and as a tribute to the legacy of our institute, we decided on this. After the construction of the Hirakud Dam, the world’s longest dam on the mighty Mahanadi River, there was a dire need of engineers to support, manage and operate the functioning of the dam. That’s how VSSUT Burla (formerly UCE) came into being. So, we extended the idea to monitor the Hirakud Dam and Mahanadi river basin through a slightly out-of-the-box approach – by using a picosat carried by our own launch vehicle. One way to do this was to approach ISRO, who under a certain programme, launches satellites made by students. But this would become time-consuming. So we considered various options like using drones, weather balloons, even helicopters but zeroed down on one —we would build our own launch vehicle and send our own satellite. It was the best option considering the size of the reservoir.
Q: You have a ten-fold mission? Take us briefly through the ten levels.
A: Our project is divided into 10 missions. The first mission involved the successful launch of VSLV into 1km apogee. This would be followed by launching VSLV into 2, 4, 8 and 10km apogee. After implementation of successful remodeling in the future editions for launches with apogees such as 15km, 25km and so on, we aim to launch the final launch mission involving 40km apogee for monitoring the Hirakud Dam and Reservoir. This makes the rocket highly utilizable for different purposes in different missions, especially those that require advanced communication system with an in-house ground station in place, analysis of cell phone reception, aerial mapping, cloud seeding, analysis of vegetation etc. Our mission is the first-of-its-kind student initiative in Asia.
Q: You have already conducted 3 successful launches – a couple of them this year & one in 2017. Which part of the mission needs more attention from you based on the experience in these launches?
A: The Team has successfully accomplished three missions (five launches) till date by launching VSLV 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 3.1, 3.2 up to a height of 800m, 1.7km, 3.89km, 3.91km, 1 km respectively. Over the years we are scaling up on achieving higher apogee or altitudes, progressively attaining supersonic speeds and performing in more dynamic environments. Scalability is a significant aspect of our project where we are continuously making progress.
Q: What Have you faced any bottlenecks in the journey so far? If yes what can be done to make sure such things don’t happen in the future.
A: We had gone through several failures before our rockets flew. We have even been called a bunch of kids launching Diwali rockets. But our focus had kept us moving!
Two years ago we started from scratch. We had no funding, no mentors and no dedicated workspace. It is very challenging to work from a remote place like Burla. Governmental processes take time and funds are meager. Advancing into Rocket Science itself is a herculean task. From training ourselves to gearing up our juniors and passing on the knowledge – it has been an intriguing journey. It is our dedications towards the mission that takes us through the tedious days that are spent solving laborious glitches or pitching our ideas to plausible sponsors. Holidays turn into working days, beds convert to workbenches and hostel backyards become testing sites – we have to work tirelessly round the clock.
Q: What has your journey to the Limca Book of Records been like?
A: After completing our first mission, we went on to become Asia Champions at the 1st Inter-college Rocket Competition organized by BRICS. Thereafter we enquired learned that no record existed for Student Rocketry in India. In fact, other than DRDO & ISRO no other organization exists in India that works with Rocket Science actively. It was after the second mission that we found a place in the India Book of Records. After our third mission, we got in touch with the team of Limca Book of Records and initiated the process. We filed and claimed our record soon after that. After scrutiny of over 6 months, we were successfully registered as the record holders. The name of VSSUT Burla and its student satellite will finally be printed in the 2019 edition of the Limca Book of Records.
Q: What was the experience while interacting with NASA Scientist & Astronaut Mr.. Jack D Fischer? Elaborate on what the team learned from him?
A: VSSUT Burla Student Satellite Team Captain Jaswasi Sahoo got the rare chance of interaction with NASA scientist and astronaut Jack D Fischer at the DST Odisha Knowledge hub convention held on 9 December 2017. We would like to thank the Government of Odisha for giving us this opportunity. Mr. Fischer shared his experiences on space travel and various experiments performed in space. The pictures and videos of his space mission were very fascinating. He also briefly gave expert advice on how we can modify our missions for fast progress. It was an enriching experience.
Q: Can breakthroughs in rocket science technology affect the economy of the country in a positive way? If yes, then how?
A: Yes, of course, it can! Gradually the country is also progressing towards space privatization. It is the age of Elon Musk’s SpaceX! Many private players have entered the Aerospace & Space Technology domain. Even ISRO has started setting up space incubation centers across India to promote space startups. The country needs more economic methods to launch a rocket, then only the cost to put a satellite in orbit can come down. Putting commercial satellites into space for a price is a growing industry.
Q: India’s Mars Mission in 2014 was ridiculed by The New York Times through a cartoon showing a farmer knocking at the door of the elite space club. What do you want to convey to the world when it comes to Indian space technology?
A: Gradually India has put itself on the world map when it comes to space missions! After the success of India’s Mars Mission and the launching record number of satellites, the country has started catching up with the developed countries. Though it has been ridiculed by one newspaper, ISRO has been acclaimed by many for the low-cost aspect of Mars Mission. We need more of such missions to make India as the space technology frontrunner and work cohesively for a greater good.
Q: Finally, in terms of space technology and aeronautics, what is or what can be India’s edge above the other developed countries of the world?
A: India has many things that set it apart! India specializes in grass root and frugal innovation, popularly termed as Jugaad. It can be found in all tiers and aspects of Indian life. India’s biggest edge above the others is its human resource and creativity workforce. When we find creative solutions to our problems, automatically the cost to solve that problem goes down. That is why India’s Mars Orbiter Mission cost less than Hollywood sci-fi movie ‘Gravity’.
Under the patronage and support of people like Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, NASA and other scientists and organizations, space technology has reached boundless limits. It is time we make use of the knowledge gained already. In the words of these talented youth, mankind is only a speck of sand dust is this Universe. They believe that the Universe holds the answer to the biggest mysteries and space exploration is a remarkable way to quest for these answers and quench their thirst for knowledge. We wish them all the best!