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Space Talks: Taking a Leap towards Space Technology
Rohit Bokade, Co-founder of the New Leap Initiative, KJ Somaiya Institute of Engineering and Information Technology (KJIEST) shares his journey of starting a student satellite team against all odds.
In my four years in the IIT Bombay Student Satellite Project (IITBSSP), I have presented the team's work at numerous exhibitions, conclaves and conferences. I came across multiple students who also wanted to venture into space science and technology and reach towards the Final Frontier. Especially as the Project Manager of the team for two years, I have come in contact with multiple student teams working in the realm of space. The New Leap Initiative of KJ Somaiya Institute of Engineering and Information Technology is one of them. Today, Rohit Bokade (VU3OIR), who is one the founder of the KJSIEIT team, shares his journey with us. What challenges he and his fellow co-founders had to endure to start the Initiative? What went right for them to win the Touch the Jovian Moon Contest conducted by Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, ISRO? Let us get to know answers to these questions in Space Talks with Rohit Bokade.
How did you get interested in Electronics?
In 12th grade, I had computer science as a subject. Wherein there were lessons about micro-controllers and microprocessors. We had topics for programming them and understanding their architecture. Writing programs for these excited me.
Apart from that, I have always been a guy who wanted to fly or at least make things than can fly. So initially, when I came across the concept of drones (around 10th grade), I always wondered how I could make one for me to capture photos and how I can make one cheap. That brought me closer to the topics of Radio Frequencies (RF), link budgets. I got fascinated with making own transceivers. That combined with the ability to code for microcontrollers opened a new door of thinking for me towards RF and embedded electronics.
What is the New Leap Initiative? And what is your story of starting it?
So as I was into rf and embedded devices since 12th grade which at a point took me towards high altitude balloons which is one of the activity regularly pursued by a substantial chunk of Ham(s) around the world. So when I got into college, I started to talk about those things with people. Only to be told by people that you are not in a Premier Institute and all these sophisticated technologies are to be done by them, and you just concentrate on learning to code and prepare your profile for getting a corporate job.
However, a few months in college there was a Technical festival at our college's other branch in Vidyavihar. There was an ISRO exhibition where a few ISRO scientists were giving talks. While roaming around with two friends, I pointed out to model of a satellite and said with some efforts you can make a small one like this in your backyard and launch. One friend found the notion ridiculous, but Supriya Bhide, who is the co-founder of the team, believed in what I said. So charged up by the fact that someone finally believed in something I have dreamt, I went on to ask the present ISRO scientist, "What will it take to launch a satellite and do we have to be from premier institutes to do so?" He replied it completely depends on the innovation of your proposal, and you can always innovate with suitable study and work.
Thus started our journey, we formed a small group of students and went to a faculty. However, this group dissolved in a few days and yet again, I lost my belief in the dream. It was only in the next sem when we went for a field visit to GMRT, Pune that I regained my confidence. I asked another faculty, Dr Umesh Shinde, who was one of the most supportive faculty members and a person who loved science and technological development of students from the bottom of his heart. The very same day he took me to principal sir to pitch the idea where we pitched an initiative to take a leap in a new era for our college with this big platform and named it "New Leap Initiative". And so it started.
Tell us about your experience at LPSC for the Touch the Jovian Moon Contest.
So around eight months since New Leap Initiative started, no one was taking team seriously as we were delivering nothing on the ground. At that time it was all about ideation and few reviews here and there. In comes a mail from principal sir regarding competition by ISRO which called for proposals for lander mission to Jupiter's moon. At that time, due to its glamour of being associated with ISRO, everyone jumped to register the names for being in the core team for the contest, and we had to choose only six. Once the team was selected, there was no progress and initiative. There were just some chats about writing this and that in the report, but no one did. However, I saw this as the first and last opportunity to make people realise the seriousness of the work we were doing in our team.
First Skype Presentation to ISRO
VSSC, ISRO Guest House
Touch the Jovian Moon Trophy
At the Award Ceremony
I took it to myself to ideate, write and edit the report over next five sleepless night (which were supposed to be preparation leave for our impending exams where I failed the first one). When completed, we sent it with no big hopes of it being selected. Surprisingly, we were chosen in the top 10. We went through three progress reviews with ISRO-LPSC team over skype for the next three months; by this time team had become serious and the institute started taking us seriously. This was was kind of first win in itself.
Finally, we got into the top 5 and were called to LPSC, where we were given a tour and insight into the testing and development of thrusters and fuels. We were given a tour of VSSC and the church from where ISRO launched the first rocket. And finally, we gave our presentation and surprisingly won the contest. But yeah that was a great journey, got us useful contacts, cleared a lot of basics, gave us a perspective in how things are supposed to be developed and standards that are followed.
What is in future for the team and you personally?
The team is working on finalising the first satellite which is a 2P PocketQube standard satellite called "BeliefSat" (You might have already understood the reason for its name from other answers since its journey was the one of belief). The team is also working with Databyte Services and Systems and Indian Meteorological department for developing Radiosondes which are required for Upper air temperature, pressure, humidity and wind speed studies by Met department and different airlines. Soon that would also be launched.
For me, I have joined Satellize (previously known as Exseedspace, the first private satellite launch company from India) with a legendary HAM Farhan Ashar as my boss, who has similar dreams RF and making objects that go up.
A takeaway for Indian students interested in Ham Radio and Electronics in general
Right now, the scenario in general is either we are telling a significant portion of our engineers that they can't do big things as they are not in the premier institute and thus killing their dreams. Or we are fuelling some of them on misguided tracks by praising mediocre work or show business. I think its time for students to start believing in themselves, with the following sentence imbibed in mind and do real research and science and not show business.
"The fact that others have done it is proof that you can do it too, however, the fact that others haven't tried it doesn't mean you shouldn't too. Rather than waiting, show it can be done".
Rohit with Yash Sanghvi (Former Project Manager of IITBSSP)
A big thanks to Rohit to share his story with our fellow nerds.