Pratham No More

As of today, India’s first student satellite project, the aptly named Pratham, has been 4

years in the making at IIT Bombay. Started at a point in time when the institute had no
background in space technology, the project today has a dedicated laboratory, an MoU with
ISRO for the launch, a tie-up with a French university for data collection, and 16 ground
stations around the globe – 15 in colleges across the country and one in France. Once
successfully in orbit, Pratham will record the electron count of the ionosphere, which can
be used for tsunami alerts and also to increase the accuracy of Global Positioning System in

The IIT Bombay Pratham team signed an MoU with ISRO a couple of years back to get a
launch date. As per the MoU, the team is supposed to hand over the integrated model of
the satellite and ISRO would carry out the vibration and thermo-vacuum tests at their end.
The MoU expires soon, and hence work goes on at war footing in the satellite lab located
on the ground floor of the Aerospace Department. The team has been working through the
summers to get the flight model boards and sensors ready.

Presently, the project is nearing its end with the final tests being carried out at IITB. The
students are busy testing the electrical hardware under simulated space like conditions
before doing integration of the flight model boards. With the integration of qualification
model completed, the team is confident that after finishing the simulated testing they can
integrate the flight model in a span of 3 days. The team plans to finish the electrical testing
soon and then go to ISRO for getting the necessary approvals. The integration of solar
panels and the structure will start once the electrical integration is approved by ISRO.

Though this was the first student satellite project to be started in the country, it will not
be the first to be launched successfully, as it has been plagued by several glitches. IIT
Bombay’s emphasis on creating a knowledge base for future missions, rather than putting
any satellite in space by hook or crook, meant that the spirit behind the process always
remained cautious and methodical rather than swift and slapdash. Furthermore, unlike
other institutes, IIT Bombay also had a social goal associated with the project which
has enabled the team to collaborate with 15 other universities across India and France.
Pratham has also developed virtual labs in collaboration with the Government of India to
help students learn the basics of Satellite technology. The project, thus, has made an impact
globally but all this has had a bearing on the timeline of the project.

According to Project Manager Jhonny Jha, the team has been hampered by a lack of
team strength over the years, as well as numerous delays in procurement of space grade
components as a result of shipping and customs constraints. In the face of these various
hurdles, IIT Bombay’s Satellite Team has been smartly prudent, without ever imposing
itself on ISRO or getting into a ‘space race’. Hopefully, this would imply a glitch-free launch
within the next few months, something that even NASA does not always achieve, that
inspires and sets the standard for student satellites across the country, even the world