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IIST tie-up for space research

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A view of the IIST hostel building that is nearing completion.
A view of the IIST hostel building that is nearing completion.

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN

In a rare model of State-funded education, the B.Tech. at IIST involves no fee or costs.

The Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), Thiruvananthapuram, a deemed university founded by the Department of Space, is going places. Not only is it relocating to a new, verdant 100-acre campus at Valiamala, about 20 km from Thiruvananthapuram but it has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Ecole Polytechnique, France, for exchange of students and teachers, and for conducting joint research in space-related subjects. Similar MOUs are on the anvil with EADS of Europe and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, USA, for exchange of faculty.

The IIST offers three B.Tech. courses in Avionics, Aerospace Engineering and Physical Sciences. Each course lasts four years or eight semesters, blending research with academics. There are totally 156 seats including 65 in B.Tech. in Avionics, 52 in Aerospace Engineering and 39 in Physical Sciences.

“What is important,” said B.N. Suresh, Director, IIST, “is that the complete cost of education for a B.Tech. student of the IIST is borne by the Department of Space.” That is, the Institute does not charge any tuition fees at all for its B.Tech. students. Their stay in the hostel too is free of cost. (It is a residential institution). “The Department of Space also gives them a book allowance of Rs.3000 every semester.” Students are covered by a health insurance package of Rs.one lakh. “But the IIST graduates are required to serve the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for a minimum, continuous period of five years. If they do not, they will have to pay Rs.ten lakhs to the organisation,” said Dr. Suresh. (Students and their parents have to execute a bond to this effect when the students join the Institute).

Besides shifting to its new campus, the IIST will conduct its own entrance examination for admission to its B.Tech. courses from the coming academic year (2010-2011).The IIST's admission test will be held on April 17, 2010 in

different centres.

After the IIST was set up in April 2007, students were admitted to its three B.Tech. courses on the basis of their performance in the Indian

Institute of Technology - Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE).

Dr. Suresh explained that the IIST was forced to conduct its own entrance examination because the lengthy process of IIT-JEE counselling delayed the start of the IIST's B.Tech. courses. The IIT-JEE prepared two lists for admission: the main and the extended lists. Candidates who figure in the extended list are eligible to join the IIST. “This (the delay caused by the lengthy process of IIT-JEE counselling) leads to a certain amount of uncertainty. Students are not sure whether they will get admission in the IIST too. If they do not get into the IIST, they will lose their seats in the IIT also,” he said. So the IIST decided to conduct its own entrance examination, which will be modelled on the IIT-JEE and the All-India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE). There will not be any major differences between the IIST's admission test and these two examinations.

But weightage will be given to students' performance in the plus two final examinations.

Dr. Suresh, who was earlier Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, said the IIST has “beautifully blended research with academics” in its B.Tech. courses because “we want to expose the students to practical aspects of space science and engineering.”

They would undergo four weeks of training in winter and summer each semester in different ISRO centres in space-related technologies and systems. “They will get an exposure to practical aspects of space engineering. We are encouraging students to do their own projects on sounding rockets and micro-satellites.

They learn how to manage projects. These are all unique features of the IIST education,” he said.

The students had already done a preliminary design of a sounding rocket with a diameter of 200 mm. They had made a presentation on how to build micro-satellites. It was more difficult to design small rockets and mini-satellites than their big counterparts.

“We allow the students to come up with their ideas. We don't want to spoon-feed them,” the Director said.

Various buildings were under construction on the new Valiamala campus. It would include a 20-acre site on top of the Ponmudi Hill, where telescopes, radars and laboratories for doing atmospheric science experiments would be set up. The campus will house academic blocks, a library building, convocation-cum-seminar hall, sports facility, hostel buildings, an administrative block and so on.

The IIST is planning to introduce three M.Tech. courses from 2010. They will relate to Adaptive and Applied Optics; Soft Computing and Machine Learning; and Radio Frequency and Microwave Systems.

A few Ph.D. students have joined the IIST. Only ISRO engineers and scientists will be initially admitted to IIST's M.Tech. and doctoral programmes.


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