Making satellites could be the future of Indian students

Prof Supriya Chakrabarti from University of Massachusetts, Lowell spoke to students of radiophysics at Rajabazar Science College about the prospects of making satellites

Prof Chakrabarti at the lecture at Rajabazar Science College

A lecture by a visiting lecturer is a delightful experience for research students. So, when Professor Supriya Chakrabarti arrived at Rajabazar Science College to talk about his work at University of Massachusetts, Lowell, students of the radiophysics department of the college were all ears. Professor and Director of the Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology (LoCSST) of the University, Chakrabarti delighted his student audience with accounts of his experiences working with students in the USA. Starting from DWEL, a Lidar for assessing carbon content in forests, to imaging of exoplanets, galaxies and upper atmospheres, Chakrabarti had enough material to keep his listeners glued.

While Professor spoke about his work, he also intended to  inspire students in India to do similar projects. “It may not always be possible to conduct large or expensive experiments by students, but I think students in India can definitely consider launching small satellites that will help in research studies on space,” said Professor Chakrabarti. The professor explained how students could initiate such projects themselves. He illustrated with examples from his work on how students at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell have embarked on making satellites under his guidance. “We are working on one right now which is expected to launch in 2019. The students formed their own teams and even included students from other departments like accounting and fine arts. They design and conduct trials independently and I only intervene when I am asked for help,” said Professor Chakrabarti.

Speaking on similar lines, Professor Chakrabarti feels that Indian students who have the potential and intellect can also attempt to  make such satellites and launch them in space, with help from ISRO. “Indian students are talented and have clear concepts which makes me confident that they will be able to excel in this field. I know of TeamIndus, a company from Bangalore that participated in Google Lunar X-prize, a world-wide competition where the participants had to design, build and land a satellite with a rover on the Moon, all with private funding. It was a tough fight and although the competition ended inconclusively, the Indian team and the company are now in the satellite business and competing for NASA opportunities,” he said. Although the proposal sounded lucrative and exciting to the students in the audience, they all wondered about other factors like financial help, government support. “I think you should be able to find good sponsors for such projects, specially if you approach them from an institution or prestigious university, such as yours” said Professor Chakrabarti.

Professor Chakrabarti, a BE from Calcutta University who pursued MS and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, has worked in various advisory boards, professional panels and has also served as guest editor of technical journals. From 1997 to 2009 Professor Chakrabarti served as the Director of the Centre for Space Physics at Boston University. During this period, the centre established itself as a national leader in space research. In 2012, Professor Chakrabarti’s research group shifted to University of Massachusetts, Lowell where they have developed pathbreaking instrumentation for various research work.