2016: A space odyssey

Reaching for the sky: Some of the team members with a model of SATHYABAMASAT Photos: R. Ravindran  

In the days leading up to June 21, the sky was scattered with rain clouds. While the rest of the city rejoiced, some students waited anxiously. They smiled only after a PSLV C-34 rocket with 20 satellites lifted off successfully at 9.25 a.m. on June 22 from Sriharikota.

There were shouts of excitement from the Block I terrace of Sathyabama University. Another group of students ran out of their 50 sq.ft. receiving station and looked at the clear blue sky to see the telltale white streak as the rocket zoomed to place satellites in their orbits. One of them was the 1.592 kg SATHYABAMASAT, that the students have worked on since 2010, to monitor green house gas concentration in the atmosphere.

The students find it hard to believe that something they created, touched and felt, is now up there. Visibly excited and yet exhausted from all the interviews and posing for the cameras, what made them happier was when Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani called up Puli Nihal Reddy, one of the team members, and wished them.

And, they were elated when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made specific mention of the students in his monthly ‘Mann Ki Baat’.

Many students have been part of the project, which spanned over six years, before the present batch gave final shape to all their aspirations. Sidhartha Chatterjee, from the 2010-2014 batch, led the project for two-and-a-half years. He works with in Mumbai now, and was instrumental in developing the code for the satellite. He met with the current batch working on the project recently.

“I tracked the news of the launch, but it hasn’t sunk in that it is finally up there. We have looked forward to this day,” he says.

Of the 12 people, including two girls, in the project, we meet six — four from Andhra Pradesh, and one each from Telangana and Odisha. The others have graduated; some have stayed back to help the core team that went to Bangalore for the final two-odd months.

All of them grew up in small towns; Soumya Ranjan Dash was raised in Bhadrak, not far away from Chandipur-On-Sea, where the Army’s Integrated Test Range is located. He listened to innumerable ‘rocket’ and ISRO stories and aspired to get there one day. Raja Preetham is from Gadwal and loves electronics and communication. Receiving and transmitting signals fascinate him. M. Hari Krishna hails from Badvel, loves electronics, and is the battery whiz and risk analyst. Ragalapalli Reddy Tharun is from Rayachoti near Cudappah and is the resident tracker; he monitors when the satellite will cross the ground station and receives the signal, twice or thrice a day.

Nihal is from Nandyal, and worked on the electrical supply sub system, which ensures power to the other sub-systems; Kandimalla Chacha Srihari is from Machilipatnam, and remembers how, as a child, he read about a plane that crashed due to bad weather. “I wanted to create one that would work in all-weather conditions. I did not imagine I’d be part of something like this,” he says.

All of them were mere acquaintances before they got involved in the project. The college had asked those interested to apply and present their case; the boys earned their seat and then bonded in the sterile ‘clean room’ where they assembled the satellite; at ISRO, where they interacted with top scientists; and outside of college, when they discussed something so special that they were part of.

For the next three days, they will monitor the beacons from the satellite, transmitted in Morse code, decode it using software, and check the health of the satellite. Later, they will map the data it provides, so that they have an idea of the distribution of man-made pollutants over India.

This data will be shared to help curb environmental degradation. For the teachers who stayed with the students in Bangalore, it was a chance to share ideas outside of the classroom, and engage in a healthy discussion, says N.R. Krishnamoorthy of the Department of Electronics and Instrumentation Engineering.

For parents, who worried about their children working non-stop, seeing their children make news was an emotional moment.

What the students cherish most is the opportunity to interact with great minds, and to think out of the box. “Some things we needed for the satellite were unique and it was wonderful to learn and implement them,” says Soumya.

The boys look forward to a lifetime of friendship… and a future where they’ll tell their children and grandchildren how they sat in a ‘clean room’, giving shape to a dream.


* The satellite has five circuit boards and the data received will be decoded by the Ground User Interface software developed by earlier batches.

* An ISRO scientist checked the satellite at the University, and the students went through months of critical design review before it was safely dispatched to Bangalore in a padded case.

* Solar panels power the satellite during the day and two Lithium Ion batteries take over when it enters the eclipse period.

* The satellite has a life span of six months. After that, it will be decommissioned.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2021 2:28:47 AM |

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