A team of five engineering students from Kochi has been selected to participate in the CanSat competition held by the American Astronautical Society and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

The main priorities of most 21-year-olds oscillate between deciding where to go for coffee and trying to pick out which entrance tests to write. Then there is the third kind, and these are the people who stay behind in college labs and tinker away for hours not because the alternative is a record-threatening bad grade, but because they actually want to.

One such group of individuals is a team of five students from Toc-H Institute of Technology at Arakunnam. Over the past five months they have been hard at work figuring out how to make a sensor payload land on a planet’s surface with minimal damage. The team, which has been named ‘Tarang’, is one of the 26 teams selected to participate in the international CanSat competition to be held at Burkett, Texas, in the USA from June 7.

Tarang is the first team ever to be selected from the State for the ‘design-build-fly’ CanSat competition, which is held by the American Astronautical Society (AAS) and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in association with industry bigwigs including NASA.

Many challenges

Mohammed Juhaim Ibnu Abdul Jabbar, who works on the mechanical subsystem and descent control mechanism for Tarang’s module, explains that this year’s competition is geared for innovation that can deliver the payload back to the Earth’s surface without a large impact.

His teammate Abhimanyu Nair, goes on to elaborate some of the challenges they faced once they received their mission. “The first issue is obviously replicating the one kilometre drop that the module has to go through, but for that we have simulations which are looking pretty good. Funnily enough, one of the biggest problems we had was finding an egg of the same size as the one that will be used as the payload! We have been given the exact dimensions of the egg to be used, and other details like temperature and weather conditions we will encounter in Texas, but the egg is proving to be a major difficulty,” Abhimanyu jokes.

The rest of the team comprises Arjun Vinod P.V., Vivin Abraham Mathews and Abhishek N., who handle the ground systems and electronic circuitry.

Juhaim weighs in on the work the team has put in to make the final cut, “The selection process is quite rigorous, we’ve had to interact with the organisers and present our ideas many times. They also have many guidelines, such as the entire weight of the module should not exceed 700 gm, and our operating costs have to be kept to a certain amount,” he says before adding “however, we have received enormous support from our college in terms of equipment and funding, and the Government of Kerala has also helped us out by chipping in with our travel expenditure.”

Passion for innovation

Abhimanyu, who is in charge of payload descent control electronics and programming, says that he joined the programme simply because he loves the work, and not taking into consideration the future benefits. Both Juhaim and Abhimanyu concur on many points, including the outdated nature of the current education system and the general disinterest towards personal projects among students in Kerala. “We were lucky because our faculty advisor in college, Prof. Kiran George Varghese, and our entire faculty as well as our families have supported us immensely, but the same cannot be said for students all over Kerala, in terms of their interest and the facilities available. In our case, we just love what we do, and though we’re told the best designs will be selected and given the opportunity to work on other projects, we are so hyped about this opportunity that we have not bothered to think about anything beyond participating,” says Juhaim with a smile.

Having to study and implement mechanics more advanced than their curriculum cannot be an easy task, but Juhaim and Abhimanyu believe it is not much of a challenge these days. “We do have Google,” they chime in unison.

All of the team members are pursuing their third year engineering, Juhaim in the electrical department and the rest of the team in electronics. The competition will be held from June 7 to 9.