My second journalistic publication

I first wrote for a journalism publication in 2009 for CNN-IBN. I had written then about ISRO’s 40th anniversary with the help of Jaimon Joseph.

My second article appeared a couple of days ago in a new publication called The Wire about the commercial trends that seem to be beginning to emerge in the Indian space programme. The feedback from many of my family members was that they could not understand what I was talking about. This makes my article an almost failure in my consideration, other than the fact that I managed to get it published with help from Vasudevan Mukunth.

Multi Application Solar Telescope commissioned in Udaipur

2015 is being celebrated by the United Nations as the International Year of Light. ISRO shared on Facebook today news of the operationalization of the Multi Application Solar Telescope (MAST) on location at the Udaipur Solar Observatory.

I had a look at the article about the Udaipur Solar Observatory on Wikipedia and was immediately depressed to see not too many references and a tag that said that the article doesn’t have enough reliable references. I added two references and then was immediately too tired to write a blog post here about the unveiling of the telescope and its implication (some laziness was involved as well). Hence, I requested my friend and journalist Vasudevan Mukunth :

In a day, he produced quite a brilliant write up about the Multi Application Solar Telescope for his publication, The Wire. The article – A Telescope that gives India a new place in the Sun is quite beautiful and succinctly written and is a must read. In fact, he wrote such a brilliant piece that my work is only to link to his story.

ISRO to launch 5 British satellites as its first commercial launch in 2015

ISRO will launch 5 British Satellites on behalf of Antrix Corporation (which is ISRO’s commercial arm) on board the PSLV-C28 vehicle on July 10, 2015. This is the PSLV’s 30th mission. ISRO will use the PSLV’s Extended Length (XL) variant to launch 1440 kg payload consisting of 5 British satellites into orbit.

The 5 satellites are the Surrey Satellite Technology Limited’s (SSTL) DMC3 satellites and CNBT-1 satellites and the Surrey Space Center’s DeOrbitSail spacecraft.

DMC3 satellites

The DMC stands for the Disaster Management Constellation of 3 satellites built by the SSTL for it’s wholly owned subsidiary, DMCii (DMC International Imaging Ltd) which is executing this project for a Chinese company, 21AT.

A visualisation of the orbit and position of each satellite in the DMC constellation. Image Courtesy: SSTL

A visualisation of the orbit and position of each satellite in the DMC constellation. Image Courtesy: SSTL

The DMC constellation is a group of 3 small satellites placed in orbit 120 degrees apart, as shown in the image above. The idea is to quickly image areas which have been struck by disaster with high-resolution cameras (1 m resolution) with a capability to provide very fast down link in order to help make the images available quickly in order to assess damage and plan disaster response.

CBNT-1

I could not read much about this satellite but it seems that the company that built it, SSTL will share more details after the launch. All that is known for sure right now is that it weighs 91 kg and is a technology demonstrator mission.

DeOrbitsail

This is an interesting 7 kg 3U cubesat with dimensions of 10 x 10 x 34 cm. It contains a highly densely packed 4 x 4 meter sail which will be deployed in space in order to increase drag in order to cause the spacecraft to deorbit and return back to Earth. The project is developed by the Surrey Space Center (not the same as SSTL).

PSLV-C28

The Spacecraft mounted on the Launch adapter called the L-adapter. Image Courtesy: ISRO

The Spacecraft mounted on the Launch adapter called the L-adapter. Image Courtesy: ISRO

For ISRO, the challenge begins with the three DMC3 spacecrafts. It had to fit in these 3 satellites each of which has a length of 3 meters into the 3.2 m diameter, 8.9 m long payload fairing of the PSLV-XL. They resolved the issue by changing the launch adapter. A launch adapter is basically a platform on which the satellites are kept and launched from once the last stage of the PSLV reaches the designated orbit and orientation. The vehicle uses a new launch adapter which has a triangular deck and is called the Multiple Satellite Adapter – Version 2 (MSA-V2).

Illustration of the Multiple Satellite Adapter - Version 2 (MSA-V2) with the satellite mounted and showing the launch of various satellites. Image Courtesy: NasaSpaceflight.com

Illustration of the Multiple Satellite Adapter – Version 2 (MSA-V2) with the satellite mounted and showing the launch of various satellites. Image Courtesy: NasaSpaceflight.com

A success now will help cement the PSLV’s record and hopefully bring more business Antrix’s way. This launch shows that even commercial launches can make requirements on a proven launch vehicle that if managed would improve the agility of the variety of satellites that the PSLV is capable of putting into orbit. This agility lowers cost and enables Antrix to reach a wider market to sell launches on the PSLV. Wishing ISRO Godspeed.

RC Planes and the Cansat competition

In 2009, whilst I was involved with SEDS-India, we had initiated a cansat competition at our chapter in Vellore Institute of Technology. The next year on a team at IIIT-Hyderabad won the international cansat competition, a feat they repeated the next year. I have been thinking up ideas of how to make a reasonable cansat competition in India, given the restriction on launch of amateur rockets to expand the popularity of cansats beyond these pockets.

Given this background, I wanted to attend this introductiory talk to a workshop on aeromodelling and RC Planes given by a member of the Aeromodelling club at VJTI, Mitali Shah.The workshop is slated to run through weekends on Sunday at Maker’s Asylum in One Indiabulls Center from April 4.

At the time that I was doing engineering, there were several co-working and hackerspaces being developed in Mumbai. The advent of MAKE magazine in the US in 2005 brought on what was being touted as the maker movement. This saw the advent of makerspaces along the same lines as the hackerspaces. Maker’s Asylum is one such makerspace that has been evolving as part of this global maker movement. This is a welcome experiment among a group of models being tried out by people in India to see what works and what does not.

The talk today consisted of introducing the workshop which begins on April 4. The workshop is to include a day of theory lessons and then nearly 2 days of practical build sessions and flight at Mahalaxmi Race Course (one of the few sites in Mumbai which has permission to fly RC planes). I also heard talk of developing a wind tunnel and how accessibility would be much easier compared to getting hold of wind tunnels in colleges like VJTI and IIT in Mumbai.

During the talk it struck me that RC planes are good candidates to carry cansats for their drop.

Let me take you back to what is involved in a cansat competition. An amateur rocket is used to carry and deliver the cansat at a predestined point and left to descent along a parabolic path. At the competition we held in VIT, we launched the cansat from atop a building complex. With amateur rockets being severely restricted and RC planes having a relatively easier access profile than amateur rockets, it would make a great carrier plane for cansats. It would be something akin to the way Virgin Galactic plans to launch its rockets.

After her talk, I spoke to Mitali and she confirmed that RC planes would be able to carry cansats comfortably.

A cansat competition in India could thus be done as a part of RC planes competition already being held in the country or independently in collaboration with aeromodelling clubs replacing the amateur rockets. RC planes would carry the payload to a designated height and release it. The cansat would then after a few seconds of free flight would then parachute down where they could meet the data requirements sought in the competition. After touchdown, teams would have to search for cansats by fox hunting, which are currently done by amateur radio enthusiasts in Mumbai.

Public Talk by Dr Seetha

Last Saturday I was at Nehru Planetarium, Mumbai’s Sky Theatre listening to a talk by ISRO’s Dr Seetha. She was working with the Mars Orbiter Mission and from my understanding on the Mars Colour Camera project. She is also a principal investigator on the Astrosat Project.

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Image: Dr. Seetha giving her talk at Nehru Planetarium, Mumbai. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas, released under a CC-BY license.

 

Nehru Planetarium director Arvind Paranjpaye introduced Dr. Seetha who comes from a background in astronomy and who was working on the instrumentation of telescopes at the Kavalur Observatory. She moved to ISRO once it began the Planetary Sciences Division at PRL, Ahmedabad. She was among a group of scientists who moved from astronomy to space division within ISRO, a fact that was thus far unbeknownst to me.

She spoke of some of the challenges faced by the ISRO team whilst putting together the Mars mission – the usual facts about the need for the longer coast phase for the PSLV, the need for additional ocean based terminals provided for by the Shipping Corporation of India, the re-starting of engines and of-course the Mars Orbiter insertion. She spoke of how the once in 26 month opening comes for a mission to Mars works and also answered specific questions on spacecraft instrumentation redundancy and radiation and thermal shielding. There were a few request for apps. She said the spacecraft may have enough fuel now to do a 1 year mission even though though it was designed for a 6 month mission thanks to the inserted orbit. She asked the audience to follow the mission via Facebook and Twitter for more exciting picture releases and perhaps even a few science results from the other instruments.

I hope ISRO does send more of its scientists to talk to the public in gigs such as this. She said she understood that there was public was restless about the speed at which the pics were getting released via Facebook and Twitter but said that the speed was slow down a bit as the scientists get down to the science. In a private conversation with her, I got a chance to thank her for the better quality of pics that were now being made available. She said that better technology enabled this.

The Red Marble

The Red Marble, this is what I thought we’d call the first global image that would be returned by the Mars Orbiter Mission. The name is inspired by the famous 1972 image known as the Blue Marble. This was made possible by the highly elliptical orbit that the spacecraft was designed to take. Today evening, ISRO put out the first global picture of Mars. It kinda looks more like Mysore Masala Dosa, no?

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Image: Regional dust storm activities captured by the Mars Colour Camera on board the Mars Orbiter Mission. Taken from an altitude of 74,500 km from the surface of Mars. Image Credit: ISRO.

Emily Lakdawalla explains the importance of this image in this blog post. If you are interested in what specific features this image covers Phil Plait aka The Bad Astronomer covers that on his blog here. Stephen Clark of SpaceflightNow reporting from the International Astronautical Congress 2014 at Toronto, Canada reports that ISRO Chairman Radhakrishnan announced that 4/5 instruments have now been activated at the Space Agency Head’s Panel. All good news!