By Rahul Chhabra
As millions of Indians follow the developments related to Chandrayaan-2, a bunch of students at Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, are drawing special inspiration from the buzz around India’s latest moon mission. The students from the institute are all fired up to realise their very own space dream by launching a nano-satellite of the size of a shoe box.
The 40 aspiring engineers at BITS claim to be steering the country’s first student-run undergraduate research group to launch a nano-satellite or cubesat with hyperspectral imager as early as 2021.
With some help from experts from the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), the undergraduate students are inching closer to designing their one-of-its-kind nano-sat equipped with a special camera that will help study the earth’s surface for response during natural hazards and track carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Christened Team Anant, the group comprises of students from all engineering branches and batches at the Rajasthan-based institute. So far, the students have developed a prototype for their payload, built one of the antennas for their ground station and integrated it with their transceiver to track signals from the International Space Station.
“Our nano-satellite will be the first in India to use hyperspectral imager. Globally, only two other nano-satellites have used such an imager,” said Kaushley Mehra, a member of the publicity group of Team Anant. The `1 crore project is being funded by BITS, Pilani, while the Isro is expected to bear the `20 lakh cost of satellite launch once an MoU is signed as part of the Union government’s push to encourage research. “The cost of components and basic supplies is borne partly by the institute and by sponsors,” said Mehra, adding that their team is looking for as many sponsors as possible.
He said after the launch the control for most domains is likely to remain with the students of the institute. “Our project has no monetary inclinations but that of social welfare, even the use of satellite once it’s up there will be of goodwill and social growth,” he said. The students claim that a hyperspectral camera captures much more information than a normal camera and the data collected by it can be used for purposes like help in CO2 monitoring, natural hazard response, to improve weather forecasts, for measuring ozone concentration, for land use classification, for vegetation mapping and algae detection, exploring mineral resources and defence.
Mehra said that BITS students have some long term plans as well. “At a later stage, a constellation of Anant-like CubeSats can be built to increase the resolution, essential in detecting rapid changes sometimes occurring at an hourly rate, saving lives and time, at a fraction of a cost of a traditional mission,” he said.
To help the overall cause and push students from other universities to see the aesthetic value of their dream project, Team Anant has decided to present papers at 10 conferences this year. This month, the students presented two papers at European Conference on Small Satellites, said Mehra.