Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mumbai 2 sour into space

            Sure, it promises an exciting moment for everyone particularly for all of us in Mumbai.

             Guess what it is?

             The launch of Pratham, designed and developed by the students of Mumbai IIT. Yes, the schedules have slightly slipped for a variety of reasons. But, so what?  This is something pretty common in any space mission and examples are a plenty. Take for instance Nasa's space shuttle launches. Have they not been resked a number of times?  And folks the reasons range from weather to technical.

            The launch of space shuttle Endeavour at about 7 p.m. (IST) on May 16 2011 was originally scheduled for March 2011. But, it got postponed and hopefully it should lift off on its final mission tonight (IST).

             So, let us not have a heartbreak each time a space flight gets postponed. ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' has seen how dedicated the IIT-B students are while working on Pratham. It is 24X7. And what will be the result?  Pratham will definately soar into orbit bringing glory to IIT-B, the Indian student community and, of course, to our city of Mumbai too.

             On Sunday, the Pratham team held its fourth and final ground station workshop at IIT-B. Project manager, Jhonny Santosh Jha, told BMM that the satellite programme received a very large exposure to the Indian students at the session. ``There were 60 students representing 10 universities across the country,'' he said, while pointing out that it was the largest participation of students in all these years. Also joining in the day long workshop were reps from the Institute of Physics of the Globe through video conferencing. This institute is participating in the Pratham project.

            Jha said that the Pratham project crossed a significant milestone last month when it received the `go' for negotiating the launch dates with Isro HQ and the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre. If all goes according to sked then it is likely that the launch will take place in the last quarter of 2011---say sometime between September and December 2011.

            He said that the table testing of the satellite has been succesfully completed and the process of assembling the flight model will be initiated this month. Two months prior to the lift off, the satellite will be handed over to Isro for further tests at Isro's satellite centre in Bangalore. These include the shake and bake test and the acoustic test. In the former the satellite will be subjected to severe vibration similar to the one it will experience during launch. In the second it will be exposed to extreme temperatures, and in the acoustic test the satellite will checked to see if it can withstand the high noise levels at take off.

           The rocket will be Isro's highly successful work horse---the four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle(PSLV)  and the chances are that Pratham will piggy back on the Indo-French 450 kg Saral satellite. With a four-month mission life, Pratham weighing 10 kgs will be placed in the 817 km polar sun synchronous orbit. The role of Pratham is to measure what is known as the ``Total Electron Count of the Ionosphere.''

           Pratham's mission includes ``enabling students and faculty to gain knowledge and experience in the field of satellite and space technology. Also, its role is to involve students from other universities in IIT-B's satellite mission by building ground stations in their universities.

           If the Pratham mission succeeds---why should it not---it will have a two-fold impact. First, it will provide a boost to the image of the Indian student community at large. Second, it will encourage youngsters to participate in India's space programme.

           Good wishes and God Speed to Pratham.




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