Cansats

Today, we see many engineering colleges that are keen to work on a cubesat or a micro satellite project. However, what happens practically is that components are obtained Commercial off the shelf (COTS). This means that when working on the project, you get exposure to the project at a systems level and understanding how things work with each other but not really working too much on testing the limits of the payload.

Image: Internal mechanism of a cansat

The payload is the heart of any project. Everything else is just effort taken to take the payload to a destination. If you want to develop your skills regarding developing payloads in very cramped environments, cansats may give you much more challenging problems. In this post, I am exploring the world of cansats.

Cansats carry payloads inside a Coca-Cola can. It can be a can of any other soft drink too. Today, we get cans of varying types and I think it would be more interesting to test these before or while working on your project. A cansat lets you think outside the box, no can. It also lets you work within restrictions.

Most of the payloads for cansats look at measuring temperature, altitude, attitude, pressure or a combination of these. You could also check for more complex things like chemical composition as well but the complexity of the payload goes up. These deliver scientific data from your payload. These payloads make sense if you belong to a science department.

There are engineering experiments you can do with cansats as well. You could carry payloads that work on attitude control as well. These try to keep the can pointed straight up as they descend. You could design ways to store and deploy parachutes to slow down the cansat as it comes down. This increases the time for which the payload remains active and collects data. At the end, you could devise ways on how to find the cansat on the ground using things like light or radio beacons. These make sense if you belong to an engineering college or department.

The question is – how do you launch cansats? It could be using a model rocket, trace a parabolic path and land somewhere. There could be other innovative launching methods as well, within the boundaries of safety. You could drop them from the top of a skyscraper or just a building. If you can get your hands on a drone, maybe launch it from the top of a drone. If you have access to a small airplane, maybe drop them from the window of a small airplane. You could drop one down from the top of a telephone tower. TIFR in Hyderabad has a balloon facility that you could use or piggyback on. In launches safety is an important consideration. Alert people about what you are going to do. Better safe than sorry.