Published: 28th January 2019
VSSUT students' innovative space programme on sounding rocket launch vehicle gets PM's pat on Mann-Ki-Baat
Stating that the country has also created a world record for launching 104 satellites simultaneously from the same spacecraft, Modi hoped that India would soon register its presence on the moon
Billed as the first and only student body of engineering undergraduates in the country that has indigenously developed a sounding rocket launch vehicle, the Veer Surendra Sai University of Technology (VSSUT) at Burla in Sambalpur has hit the headlines once again.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday lauded the feat of the students of VSSUT's Space Research and Development Programme during his monthly radio talk Mann-Ki-Baat. The students are known for their innovative works in developing, launching and recovering indigenously developed reusable satellites and rockets.
"Our space programme has been possible due to innumerable young scientists of the country. We take pride in the fact that the satellites developed by our students and sounding rockets have reached space. The sounding rockets made by Odisha university students have created many records," the Prime Minister said.
Stating that the country has also created a world record for launching 104 satellites simultaneously from the same spacecraft, Modi hoped that India would soon register its presence on the moon through the Chandrayaan-2 campaign.
The students led by a team of mentors have so far accomplished three missions successfully by launching sounding rocket launch vehicle, VSSUT Satellite Launch Vehicle (VSLV), several times at different altitudes.
VSLV is the first student rocket initiative in Asia. It has been designed and developed by students of electrical, mechanical and civil engineering departments of VSSUT. Last year, the VSSUT had entered the Limca Book of Records as the first and only student body in India which have developed and launched a sounding rocket. The team also holds an India Book of Record for the same feat.
The 30-member students' team also have developed a Can Satellite (CanSat) to monitor the real-time scenario of Hirakud dam. Siltation, unscientific water distribution system, flood control, irrigation and hydel power generation can be monitored through the minisatellite.
It was in 2016, during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of VSSUT, that a few students decided to do something which will prove to be a tribute to the dam. The problems that plagued the dam were siltation and sedimentation. So the logical step was to keep monitoring the build-up of both in the dam. One way to do this was to approach ISRO, who under one of its programmes, launches satellites made by students. "But this process could easily take a decade," says Apurwa Masook, one of the founding team members who is currently in the fourth year.
Drone, weather balloons, helicopters even, the team then toyed with several ideas but zeroed in on one — that they will build their own launch vehicle and send their own satellite. "It was the best thing to do because the reservoir is so vast that it looks like an ocean. Only a satellite could do the job," says 21-year-old Masook. For this mission to see the light of day, members from all departments were asked to participate. And they did! Civil, Electrical and Electronics, MTech, Chemical and IT. But of course, the baby steps are the most difficult. "The scale of the idea was beyond some people and we were criticised," he said. But this mission was not conceived on a whim — they had a proper plan in place. But today, mindsets have changed, they have a dedicated space for themselves in their college and the college offers mentorship and financial aid as well.
All in a row: The rockets that the students of VSSUT have launched (Pic: VSSUT)
The team wanted to deploy a PICOsat at an altitude of 40 km, but of course, this was not possible on their first attempt. So they broke the mission into 10 parts, where with every part they would scale a few extra kilometres. As of now, they are have successfully completed their third mission and their satellite successfully reached an altitude of four kilometres. "The satellite was even successfully recovered using a parachute," says the Bhubaneswar-based Masook. While with their second mission, they calculated the strength of cellular signals, with the third, the satellite collected data on temperature, humidity and a general weather report.
At the moment, they are battling to get the necessary permissions, clearance, a NOC from the district collector, an exclusive license from PESO and everything else in between. The team collectively is positive that everything will come through and that they will be able to complete all three missions by March next year. "With the tenth mission, we want to conduct research on cloud seeding, which means, this satellite could trigger rains," says the team excitedly.
The team has been invited to exhibit at Aero India in Bengaluru in the month of February next year. One of their strongest supporters has been the alumni. And with an illustrious network that includes Bijan Das, Former Deputy Director, ISRO (1969 batch), Dr Binaya Kumar Das, Director, DRDO ITR, Chandipur (1987 batch), Dr Radhakant Padhy, Professor, Aerospace Engineering, IIsc Bangalore (1994 batch) and others, the team got the support that they needed. Most alumni mentored them through video conferences, WhatsApp and other mediums and generously donated towards their cause. "Our main strength is our alumni, they have been of great help," says Jaswasi J Sahoo, 'JJ' for short.
Talking about balancing college and their mission, the team tells us that the first thing to take a hit is their sleep. Tatwam Siddha, head of the mechanical aspects of the project, says, "Our work depends on the schedule of our morning classes as well, but usually, we work till 1 am and then return to college. Someone or the other is always working on the project," he says. Talking about girls in their team, Masook says, "There were no girls in the founding team because their hostel in-time was, and is, 6 pm so it is very difficult for the team to manage work. But now, the junior team has a few girls who are trying to extend their time so that they can work more," he says. If it wasn't for the fact that Burla shuts down during vacations because of which food and connectivity become a problem, they would have stayed back at the hostel.