Author – Sanket Jain
In the 20th century, it was the space race that led to an enigmatic fight among developed nations, but most of the emerging nations were spectators. However, things have drastically changed since then, with India and China leading the space race now. The Chandrayaan-1 and the Mars Orbiter Mission by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) made the global scientific community stand up and take notice.
While ISRO as a space exploration organization has achieved many laurels for the nation, 22 June 2016 created history of a different kind when students from the College of Engineering, Pune (COEP) launched their satellite! On that day, ISRO made a record of launching the maximum number of 20 satellites through the launch of PSLV C 34 rocket from Sriharikota. However, the students of COEP had a better reason to rejoice, since their satellite ‘SWAYAM’ was also launched by ISRO.
Swayam is the smallest satellite among the 20 satellites launched by ISRO. The cube-shaped Pico satellite weighs less than 1 kg and is one of the smallest satellites of India, which will orbit the earth between 500-800 kms. ISRO placed it in the orbit along with Cartosat-2 Series earth observation satellite and 19 other satellites, 17 of which were foreign.
The project which started in 2008 finally saw the light in 2016 after it was approved by ISRO in 2014 for launch. On 23 May 2013, an agreement was signed between ISRO and COEP for the launch of Swayam satellite. Before the final launch approval, the satellite had to go through two stages of testing: namely the Critical Design Review and then the approval for Flight Model was given. In May 2014, the satellite was subjected to environmental tests of vibration and thermo-vacuum at ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore and Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Trivandrum. Finally, Swayam got its approval in September 2014.
Earlier in October 2012, a ground station was established at the COEP campus itself with uplink and downlink facilities in Ultra High Frequency and Very High Frequency bands. Further, a clean room of class 10000 was set up in November 2013 in the college for assembling of the satellite. The ground station successfully received Yuri Gagarin’s photos which were transmitted by RS0ISS on 145.8MHz. Students involved with the project said that they received beacon signal from more than 35 international satellites like Bugsat-1 (Argentinian micro-satellite), TigriSat, Unisat-6 with the help of custom setup.
Around 176 students from various departments were a part of this Swayam project, whose overall cost of INR50 lakhs completely funded by COEP. Many papers on Nano and Pico satellites have been presented by the college students in several conferences. Former Director, COEP Dr. Anil Sahasrabudhe supported the entire team of students right from the inception of the project in 2008 up to the successful launch of the satellite.
Shweta Pable, an Electrical Engineering student at COEP proudly said, “I always had fascination for satellites and when I first came to know about this from seniors, I was more than happy to participate.” Pable further said that the idea of SWAYAM satellite was first proposed by Abhishek Baviskar (alumnus of COEP), who was from the civil engineering stream. She mentioned that while Baviskar was interning at IIT Mumbai, they asked COEP to provide a ground station. It was then he realized if COEP could offer a ground station then why not build a satellite on its own!
Right from the idea to execution, COEP students embarked on a enormous journey of satellite development accompanied by several trials and errors. The project was not restricted to students from a particular field, rather it was inter-disciplinary which makes it interesting and inspiring for many people who find a passion in field which they aren’t pursuing directly. Being the first satellite to employ passive stabilization technology, Swayam orients itself towards Earth’s the magnetic field.
Darshan Shah, a third year student of Instrumentation & Control Engineering in COEP said the main purpose of this project was to technically prove that magnetic hysteresis can help in keeping a satellite stable in space. Further, it will also help in point-to-point messaging services for the HAM radio community. “It will take 15 days for the first set of results from the satellite to come in. On a timely basis, we have been receiving signals which is one of the success of the project,” added Shah.