successful fabrication and launch of nano satellite Jugnu
showcases how a band of enthusiastic IIT-Kanpur students burning
the midnight oil pulled off the rare feat with their sheer hard
work and sacrifices.
The team of 50 students worked around classes, assignments and
exams, toiling at their lab, some well past 2 a.m. "You could
probably find someone or the other sleeping in the lab itself and
waking up early for a morning meet," team leader Shashank
Chintalagiri told IANS from Kanpur.
Their complete involvement left them very little time for social
life, but members struck up new friendships that grew into an
extended family, making Jugnu and its sub-systems possible.
Occasionally, celebrating someone's birthday or a new milestone
did liven up their rather 'punishing' routine.
IITians inherited a different set of problems because the nanosat
had to be built on a vastly smaller scale, virtually from scratch
but with functions of their larger counterparts. "We were
initially torn between Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO)
'right way' of doing things and a more practical approach.
Eventually, we decided to go ahead, taking cues from other
nanosats built around the world," says Chintalagiri, a budding
"We would never have been able to achieve the size reduction we
did by blindly following ISRO specifications. It helped that we
were able to take greater risks, since we were operating at less
than one percent of the cost of a regular satellite. All our
individual experiences before the project gave us the foundation
necessary to do this," adds Chintalagiri.
It wasn't smooth sailing all the way, though. There were plenty of
hiccups, which they overcame by applying their skills and out-of
the-box approach. Since a nanosat is a highly integrated system,
even small changes in one place can cascade into a number of
seemingly unrelated changes all over the satellite.
"For instance, we had to add a mere millimetre (mm) or so of
spacing between two boards. That caused another board higher up in
the stack to move by a couple of mm, causing other problems. But
we overcame the glitch. It always was a very delicate balancing
act, to be sure that the fix for one problem does not cause
another. The reason that we were able to solve a number of the
problems, however, was preparation," recalls Chintalagiri.
Students learn a lot of things in a project of this kind. Most
things picked up at college are narrow, restricted views of
technology, which are heavily steeped in theory. It is a
completely different game when the end product is a functional,
real system, according to a source in IIT-Kanpur.
"Besides, the project required expertise from many diverse fields.
We had to be able to think of the satellite as a system, greater
than the sum of its parts. Team members were involved at every
stage of the design and development, right from the conception to
the drawing board to the fabrication centre and finally the
integration and testing process," said Chintalagiri.
A major difficulty involved people leaving the project midway
before a replacement could be trained, recalls Chintalagiri.
"Unfortunately, social and economic obligations did not generally
allow people to stay on. Those who did were deeply involved in the
project and knew that their being there for a year more would make
a significant difference to the success of the satellite."
"Initially, there were only three members, doing a feasibility
study of sorts. I believe the first group gathered some time in
March or April of 2008, and I joined the team in September. By
then, there were already 10 to 15 people on board and we all knew
what the satellite was going to look like," adds Chintalagiri.
As ISRO does not have ejection system for satellites below 10 kg,
so designing one for Jugnu was a real challenge. Ultimately, Amrit
Sagar, who designed it, did the nation proud. It is a complex
piece of technology that makes space missions possible by
separating the satellite from the launch vehicle and placing it in
a precise orbit. The mechanism went through dozens of rigorous
tests before certification by the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre,
said IIT-Kanpur sources.
"The credit of the success of the mission goes to the student team
. . . from various disciplines of engineering and science, who
worked tirelessly to bring Jugnu to life," said Jugnu project
leader N. Vyas, professor and head, mechanincal engineering
(Shudip Talukdar can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)