Terrestar-1: To provide internet connection to the not connected

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 07, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

The company that owns the communication satellite, Terrestar-1 went bankrupt this October. An organisation called A Human Right, which seeks to connect everyone and advocate internet connection as a basic human right, is considering buying this satellite.

For this, they have launched a new website called – Buy This Satellite. Here, they advocate a 3-phase plan for acquiring this satellite. They are currently in phase 1, trying to raise $150,000. They have managed to raise $26,200 so far. This money will go into developing a business plan, getting a technical team together and ironing out the legal and business wrinkles.

Interestingly, Suyash Tiwari, Director, Telecom Innovation Lab at Tata Consultancy Services is on board as an advisor for this project as well as for the organisation. This is an interesting Indian angle to the story.

Eventually, their hopes are to establish the satellite into a place where it can provide Internet access to countries like Papua New Guinea or those in Africa that have not been connected to the Internet.

Thanks to Keith Cowing for the hattip.

French President visits ISRO

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 06, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Not many heads of state come and visit the high-tech labs within India’s space agency, ISRO. Perhaps the fact that the development of Megha-Tropiques and Saral were on, led the French President to visit the facility with First Lady Carla Bruni.

ISRO Chairman Radhakrishnan’s opening remarks on how ISRO was helped in its propulsion systems technology by the French. He revealed that ISRO had signed a deal with ARIANESPACE to launch India’s GSAT-8 in 2011 and GSAT-10 in 2012. He revealed that perhaps INSAT-3D would also be launched using ARIANESPACE’s launch vehicle. INSAT-3D was to be launched on board a GSLV Mk-2. Perhaps it’s failure to launch this year has pushed launches of critical satellites into ARIANESPACE. The only major deal to have been signed is with EADS Astrium, for which ISRO had built the Eutelsat-W2M and HYLAS-1.

The French President’s remarks seem to have been directed at a more general audience than in ISRO itself talking about the United Nations, Afghanistan and Nuclear and  education Co-operation.  Further into his speech he said two lines without elaborating much but which are interesting: “We will launch Indian satellites from Kourou, and European satellites from India. CNES and ISRO will develop a new research programme together.”

India already uses Kourou to launch various of its satellites but no pure European commercial satellite has been launched by India. For now, PSLV may be able to afford Europe a cheaper flight option than perhaps EADS. In an earlier report, EADS had suggested this as a possibility. The French President did not confirm this, though. The second line is interesting because of the shape this new research programme will take.

The other interesting statement from the French President’s speech is the “an unprecedented technological experiment that India is conducting to understand its population” reference. I am not aware of this experiment at all and have been trying to understand this reference.

Indo-French Nuclear Co-operation

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 06, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Vaiju Naravane of The Hindu writes about the Indo-French nuclear co-operation specifically talking about the deal with French nuclear company, Areva. I have been learning of the Jaitapur Nuclear Plant project mostly through Greenpeace and their Nuclear-Unsafe campaign. Sadly, Areva’s defences in public have not been very effective and have even been countered.

The Times of India today and the Greenpeace blog earlier reported on the protests against the Jaitapur Plant. It has been interesting to see a growing number of controversial projects coming up along the Maharashtra and Orissa coastlines.

I am personally not 100% against nuclear power. I am concerned about India putting in lots of public money to obtain a nuclear technology that is still in stages of refinement. In the software world, this is like downloading the beta or developers version of a software. One does not download such software if one does not know about the software’s vulnerability and issues. Similarily, investing money without having experience or an authority in new nuclear plants, India should have played it more safely than it has. Hopefully, better sense prevails.

Back from a Break…

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.blogspot.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 02, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I finished writing my only exam that I had to write today. This exam has been the source of many pains and also led me to miss many things including Dr. Maqbool’s talk which I had written about in these pages. This is just a heads-up saying I’m back and sharing a few random links to space articles that I missed in the past few days.

1. Dr. Syed Maqbool Ahmed’s talkpress report + Srinivas’ take on Dr. Ahmed’s day in Mumbai and his talk.

2. An ongoing Astronomy festival in Bengaluru with participation from ISRO. The festival runs till December 5, 2010. I have sadly not seen many post event blog reports yet.

3. Abhilash M from the ISRO Inertials Systems Unit writes on The Voyage Blog  on the World Space Week celebrations done by ISRO in Kerala.

4. Anantha Krishnan writes about India’s success in developing indigenously electro-hydraulic servo valves (ESHVs) which have aerospace applications. It was developed by a team at Centre for Aerospace Products, Hyderabad.

5. Srinivas also shared an aspect of Chandrayaan-I hitherto not well known. He shared information on how the Parkes Observatory was used to help Chandrayaan-I get data down to Earth 24×7.

6. This last week, ISRO-built satellite Hylas-1 for Astrium and Avanti, launched from Kourou. The ISRO Press releases on the launch and its subsequent placement in geostationary orbit. Also, Srinivas’ account is here.

With that, we now return to the normal scheduled programme. Coming over to the blog, you will find that it has been simplified even more.

My Days at SEDS

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as https://pradx.org/blog. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on April 9, 2009 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

In about a month or two, I will graduate from college and will head out to follow a career path that I hope will some day lead me to the door steps of ISRO. As one of the co-starters of SEDS in India, I thought you may be interested in sharing the journey of SEDS till date. My passion for outer space started way back when I was 13 years old and I have been smitten ever since. Despite the best efforts from several people, I have not been able to go off the path of space sciences. At age 17, sitting in an internet cafe, looking for a space organisation, the first one that came up was Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS).

I was able to find several amateur astronomy clubs in India but none that were dedicated to space engineering. I learnt however that some did exist but I seemed to have been not patient enough to find them. I shared my concern on the forums of SEDS and there was able to meet several people who convinced me that I can be the right person to start the Indian extension of SEDS. While I remained non-commital, I was introduced to Abhishek Ray who seems to have found out about SEDS in the same way and had expressed the same interest.

So, way back in late 2004 and early 2005, with a simple forums announcment, we got started with SEDS in India. We started off with perhaps 10 members or so. Even with such humble beginnings the dreams of two late teens clashed with what SEDS could be or do in India. We both felt that the ultimate thrill would be for ISRO to some day come to us looking for great leaders who could lead their projects and missions. What a thrill that would be!

Things did get difficult from there on and we had a lean patch where SEDS was not doing much and we were mostly co-ordinating and working towards an international SEDS organisation than building anything here in India. Throughout this phase of SEDS in India, I would like to specially point to the help provided by Kirk Kittell, then a Vice Chair at SEDS USA.

Enter Pranav Aggrawal and the chapter at Vellore Institute of Technology University. After failing with a two chapter model, we thought of putting all efforts into building one chapter properly that could then serve as an example for several other chapters across the country. By working on one chapter with effective results we thought that this could help people understand our work better and also aid forming chapters.

With this intention most of 2007 and 2008 was spent building up the chapter of SEDS at VIT University. This was an era of several wonderful conversations and idea storms that I shared with Pranav Aggrawal and we are still a bit sad that we were not able to implement many of the ideas that we did have. Perhaps, the SEDS International Conference 2007 hosted by VIT University was the time that SEDS in India stepped up and did what several people still reminiscense as a wonderful conference.

There, for perhaps the first time, we brought to India, the Moon Rover Design Competition and water rocket competitions. It was a great joy for us to the wonderful turnout that we had and the grand success that the event was.

The event also got us attention to what SEDS was and as to the projects and events that we had done. At this point, we discovered that having a big successful chapter can also work in another way, to make new chapters worry about their success or failiure. In 2007, we began efforts to streamline the organisation, get it registered and to begin expanding to younger chapters.

Several innovative solutions were brought to the table by the founding Executive Committee members (Anmol Sharma, Snehal Deshpande, Krishna Mohanty, Ashish Aggrawal being the chief among them) and several others who worked with and under us during the period. We developed solutions that would I think help us in the future as the organisation grows and spreads across India.

An organisation that started with a dream has now got some very practical implementations for the way we work – the activities that we choose to do and the implementation of our projects. We hope we can continuously improve and be more effective than we have been.

In 2009, Snehal Deshpande and Krishna Mohanty and others at the chapter in VITU, worked hard to bring to fruition the SEDS India National Conference (SINC 2009). Here too we brought the cansat competition for the first time in India, got all the small satellite developers from across India at a venue (thanks to ISRO  and specially, Dr. Raghava Murthy for this), math modelling etc. We hope to do much better in 2010. There are many projects already planned and several that we are still brainstorming. For the new chapters, I hope this is a great opportunity and for VIT, perhaps a caution that we have only covered a small distance in the vast ocean.

To conclude, I would like to thank several people who have helped me in starting and getting SEDS up on its feet – Kirk Kittell, Pranav Aggrawal and Abhishek Ray. There have also been people that each of these individuals including me reached out to – brothers, friends, professors etc who have advised us and kept us going. I also hope that the future members of SEDS remember all these people who helped set up the organisation and worked hard to contribute to what it has become today.

Thanks for being a part of this journey and I hope that while I hand over this mantle to the next generation they will take SEDS to great heights and perhaps one day even to another planet or even another star :).

Banning online satellite imagery services to combat terrorism

This article originally appeared on my blog http://pradx.wordpress.com. I recovered the post using Wayback Machine.

PIL has been filed against providing free online satellite imagery in India. I really do not understand how this is going to help without beefing up security on the ground. A few points for your consideration:

1. How many such services will you ban? Google Earth is perhaps the most famous. Besides, these are embedded in several websites which can be used to get the information wanted. Besides that such services are provided by WikimapiaYahoo! and Microsoft. Have a great time blocking all these sites.

2. If you ban it in India, can’t they access it from any other country? As far as media reports go, terrorists weren’t trained in India, so I’m pretty sure they won’t access the internet from here. They can easily access the site from another country, take a print out and do what they came here to do, while people who use such services are major losers.

3. Google Earth has been used not only by researchers and scientists but also in class rooms and communities to fight several issues against the Government.

4. All publicly released satellite imagery generally tend to be 1-4 years old. Is that really useful? The maps for my place look totally different today than as seen on Google Maps/Earth.

5. If such services are so useful to terrorists, why hasn’t the Police taken steps to use them for their benefit. (I know this is not really a valid point for or against the ban, but merely a thought that came to me as I typed this)

Technology is always a double edged sword that can cut either way. These are most of the objections I can immediately think of for not banning services such as Google Earth. If you can think of others, please do leave them in the comments. Thanks

India goes to the Moon!

This article originally appeared on my blog http://pradx.wordpress.com. I recovered the post using Wayback Machine.


Yeah! It is yesterday’s news and you might be wondering what I have been doing for so long when the greatest news in the Indian space programme was breaking. Well, I was busy being Chandrayaan1 on Twitter

This is not connected in any way to ISRO – although I do email them the questions that I get here. I haven’t told that many people what I have been doing either. I have tried my best – please do have a look and comment!

Well, to summarize all the news – India’s first space craft to the Moon has successfully reached lunar orbit and is now circling the moon in a 100 kms circular polar orbit, doing the orbit in an awesome 2 hours.  Two on board instruments – RADOM and TMC have been switched on and are working. TMC is a camera that is taking images of the moon while the RADOM is a radiation sampler.

Tonight at around 10 pm, Chandrayaan 1 will drop the MIP (Moon Impact Probe) onto the surface of the moon. It has flags painted on four sides and will be the FIRST INDIAN OBJECT ON THE MOON! This drop will show that India can drop a probe/lander/rover onto the lunar surface the next time we come to the Moon!

Chandrayaan 1 on Twitter

This article originally appeared on my blog http://pradx.wordpress.com. I recovered the post using Wayback Machine.

I tried tweeting as Chandrayaan1 on Twitter. Please do look at the feed and share your thoughts. I should have organised this a bit much more and announced it before the launch. But its never too late. This is the unofficial feed.

Also, if you were in a big group when you watched the launch, please do send me the name of your group and where you watched the launch from, and I shall be happy to add it to the Chandrayaan 1 feed.

How can youth be more proactive in helping shape our space programme?

This article originally appeared on my blog http://pradx.wordpress.com. I recovered the post using Wayback Machine.

Bijal Thakore, recently on the Planetary Society board, asked people: How can youth be more proactive in helping shape our space programs? This is not really an exact reply to that question but is a first general hit in that direction. Let’s see where the thought process goes.

  1. Outreach is a good place to start and learn things that you don’t know about. It’s also a good way to show people in space missions/projects etc. how passionate you are on a subject or in a field. I believe that is the extent to which outreach can be pushed. It gives you a sense of recognition for your passion.
  2. The second thing to get involved – specially students is to understand their own country’s space policy. Organisations like SEDS, Planetary Society etc. can bring this closer to the people by breaking down such policy into things which today’s youth can understand and offer implications of these actions on them.
  3. The third thing is to get involved in projects. Projects are much better way to understand the complexities that a space scientist faces during his design and fabrication. Taking part in a project is also a good excuse for an educational institution to develop their own infrastructure. But it does take a lot of effort and hard work, but it’s fun.
  4. The fourth thing is events. These are the best platforms to showcase what you have done in your sphere of interest. It is also a place to make the public involved in your activities and even if just for a moment, to share the thrill that members of organisations get to have daily. This is also a place where organisations grow with people wanting to have the thrill for the rest of the year and possibly, rest of their life time.

All in all, this is not a complete roadmap to changing around a space programme into a direction where timelines can crushed to get things done faster. This is just enough to get a swell of ground support so that what you do matters to people with power and money to get your work done.

People behind Chandrayaan-1

On Chandrayaan I’s coverage on NDTV there are exclusive interviews with the scientists and technicians who have made the various online instruments on board Chandrayaan I.

  1. Dr. Mylswamy Annadurai – He’s the Project Director of Chandrayaan I. There was a small note about him in the Times of India. He said designing Chandrayaan 1 was like writing lyrics for a set tune. He’s also from a district next door to my home town. He’s from near Pollachi, Coimbatore.
  2. J A Kamlakar – an expert on LASERS. His instrument on board Chandrayaan I will help measure height variation on the moon’s surface.
  3. Dr. Manuel Grande – Principal Investigator CIXS ( Chandrayaan I Xray Sepctrometer). Doug Ellison made an animation on this instrument.
  4. Dr. Urs Mall – SIR 2 (Near Infra Red Spectrometer)
  5. Dr. Stas Barabash – SARA

I’m sure that the names indicate to you the international team that has instruments on board the Chandrayaan I. It is a special feeling to have your instruments on board a space craft and to see it fly and I hope every one of you gets an opportunity to have that experience. The last rant doesn’t mean that the technology and people behind Chandrayaan 1 isn’t cool, just that it would be a lot cooler if they shared some of their thoughts with us.

The specialised NDTV page on Chandrayaan is here.