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Space Talks: Representing India at Spaceport America Cup
Interview with Saurabh Bagare from thrustMIT: a student rocket team from Manipal Institute of Technology.
Today, Saurabh Bagare, a final year aerospace engineering student at the Manipal Institute of Technology, shares his journey with us, space nerds. He was part of the team thrustMIT, which designed and launched the rocket named VYOM at Spaceport America Cup 2018. He has also worked on the world's first orbital hybrid rocket capable of thrust vectoring in Taiwan. Let us read his anecdotes.
How did you get interested in Aerospace?
Well, that's an interesting story. My life up till now has been one hell of a rollercoaster ride. You might think, most of us dream of becoming pilots or astronauts, right? Losing partial vision in an accident way back in senior kg, eliminated this case once and for all.
I wasn't born in a very privileged family, either. However, the environment I got from home did not stop me from aiming for big things. My dad, who was an ordinary government employee at that time, did his best to provide us with happiness in the smallest of the things he could find.
Many-a-times he used to take me on a bike ride from our home (in Kalyan) to his office (in Mumbai). Once, I was fascinated at a particular spot on the highway. An aircraft went across and landed on the other side. Perceiving my curiosity, my dad started taking me on that route more often. And, hence my aerospace journey started. Whenever I go back home, I still look towards the sky at that very spot, and the only difference is, I can identify every aircraft with the airline livery.
What is your story of becoming a part of thrustMIT?
When I joined Manipal in 2016, none of the hundreds of clubs and student projects caught my eye. However, in October, some of the seniors started a new student project for enthusiast rocket scientists named thrustMIT.
The team, when started, was a fresh idea among all the AI/robotics fandom going around. I joined the team as a junior in my first year and later represented the university and country to SpacePort America Cup 2018 along with my teammates.
Things were difficult, I mean, very difficult. Lack of generous funding and sponsorships. Little to no support given to a bunch of teenagers aiming to build a rocket. Having less idea of the technicalities are just the tip of the iceberg. Lots of fights, curses, sleepless nights with tons of rocket motor tests and failures coupled with long hours of brainstorming eventually, made us build our first rocket for the competitive arena, named VYOM.
We did complete our SpacePort America 2018 campaign. However, a series of health issues made me hang my gloves just after returning from the competition.
Take us through the journey of launching a rocket at Spaceport America Cup 2018.
The most challenging part when it comes to launching a rocket in America is not the rocket itself, but the visa required to travel to America. Because rocket technology comes under the TAL: Technologically Alert List, we had to submit our CV and past ten years of travel history.
Thankfully we got discounts on our stay and permissions to build rockets in the hotel room or any common area like the lobby, courtesy competition sponsors. Since we had to get out rockets ready for inspection and podium presentation, sleep was not an option. Eventually, we built the rocket and successfully presented it on the first day, and got the launch clearance certificate from the judges. Though, a minor error in the avionics system delayed our launch to the third day.
I remember, during Vyom's flight, the pride I experienced when the commentator was saying our college name and country name. The rocket launch was more than satisfactory, but we suffered from broken fin mid-air, causing the rocket to change its trajectory. However, the parachute was deployed successfully, and we managed to recover it on time and got back the fallen soldier back home.
Other than our launch, the entire launch site gave us a plethora of options from nearly everything an aerospace student could ask for!
In the hot, hellish desert launch site, we got plenty of isotonic drinks and space-food from sponsors. Not to forget, the endless interaction I had with scientists and employees of NASA, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Aerojet Rocketdyne etc. It was indeed a sight to behold and an adventure worth a lifetime.
You interned at the ARRC Taiwan. Generally, students prefer space fairing nations like the USA or countries in Europe. How was this experience?
Of course, I did have the USA and Europe in mind. Having the experience of travelling to America in 2018, I thought of applying for Europe and Asia in 2019. High living costs coupled with limited funding opportunities in Europe and my inclination to Asian culture made me choose Japan and Taiwan as my final choices. I ended up getting in both of them.
The best opportunity I had was Advanced Rocket Research Centre (ARRC), an autonomous rocket research facility headed by Dr Jong-Shinn Wu in National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan. My professor himself is very well known in the area of Hybrid Rocket Research. Taiwan, as a country, has a vast indigenous industry. Almost one of every five electronics companies is of a Taiwanese origin. Hence I took the risk, and I did not regret it. I had the opportunity to work on the world's first orbital hybrid rocket capable of thrust vectoring. I was also a part of their weekly rocket tests.
I did struggle with language and food, but after a while, it felt natural. Whichever restaurant I used to go, the restaurant owners always used to ask my Taiwanese lab-mates about me, if I was enjoying Taiwan, if I was comfortable etc. I was impressed with this mutual caring and consideration to a foreigner. People had a lot of social and civic responsibility.
In India, we generally glorify the west. Still, my experience in Taiwan made me embrace my Asian origins and stand by my motto; Technology meets culture, Art meets Science.
A takeaway for Indian students interested Rocketry and Aerospace in general.
Currently, I'm doing my final year thesis project at the National University of Singapore. Despite having worked on rockets throughout my academic life, I'm designing and building a solar-powered aircraft. Research now is very multidisciplinary and favours people who can be flexible. Try to learn as much as you can. Knowledge never goes waste.
I want to tell all the aerospace aspirants that if someone says, "There is no Scope", or "Job market is limited" do not get disheartened. If you take Aerospace the way it should be taken, then you will automatically discover scope. If someone intimidates you in the name of money, remember this quote from the movie The Wind Rises "Airplanes are not tools of war. They are not for making money. Aeroplanes are beautiful dreams, and engineers turn dreams into reality."
It isn't easy, mentally, and physically taxing, but the result that you'll get will be on a much larger scale. And even if you don't get the result you desire, the journey on your way to the result is worth a lifetime.
Saurabh with Prof Jong-Shinn Wu
A big thanks to Saurabh to share his story with our fellow nerds.