The young icons from Space Kidz had a lot to share as part of the interview and a lot of advice to give. Vinay Bharadwaj, the structural engineer of KalamSat, was quite vocal and very interactive. He had a ‘going’ aura about him and answered all our questions with ease. To the extrovert Vinay was, Vijay Lakshmi Narayan was THE exact opposite. We had a tough time prizing words from his mouth, and we were not disappointed! Space Kidz even have a book chronicling their Kalamsat experience: ”From Gulab Jamun to the Stars!”, by Srinivas Laxman. Curious about the title? To learn more about that, their ‘mission’, their team and what they’ve been up to, read on!
Pragadeeswaran(P): Let’s start with the basics. Tell us about how the idea came about, how you started from scratch.
(Vinay Bharadwaj) VB: Okay, so the idea began at Srimathi Ma’am’s (Mission director/ Mentor) house. She had prepared Gulab Jamuns for us, and while all of us were at it, gobbling them up, Rifath and Kashif looked at it for quite some time, and came up with the idea of making a satellite! Even the first name we had thought of for our creation was ‘Gulab Jamun Sat’. An organization called ‘Cubes in Space‘, in partnership with the Colorado Space Centre and NASA had organised a competition. The competition was simple. If you had registered, a 4×4 box would be sent to you and you could send any scientific payload you wanted in the box. While people from all over the world were sending stuff like chocolates, chewing gums, we thought otherwise!
The director of the competition was mind-dlown to receive our entry- a satellite for a payload! The Director went on to say that if we were to accomplish it, our launching cost, he would waive off. We were working on our satellite at that time, and the mail from the director- it drove us nuts! Fast forward to the time we shipped our satellite, and it was launched on June 22, 2017.
With our satellite, we wanted to test 3D printing in space, so we developed and patented our own material-a reinforced Carbon fibre polymer. This was a technology demonstration and a success because there was no rupture crack in the structure. It could withstand the load of an elephant!
P: The next question that has got us curious is, how did you manage to find such a small satellite in the middle of an ocean?
VB: There was a tracker in the payload, which the US Navy used to track our satellite and they shipped KalamSat home after some time. It’s a femto satellite(weighs below a 100 grams). KalamSat weighed around 65 grams, which is like holding a AAA battery in your hand. Since I was the structural engineer in the team, I faced the challenge of building a structure that won’t break or rupture in outer space. We could’ve taken the easier route of copying another idea, but we had decided to create our own material. If that was the case, it had to be something that is off the shelves. We did this only to make the people of our country realise that space is feasible. People in our country brush off space science saying it is not feasible and they find it a far-fetched idea. It is all about passion, and I honestly feel that if you are passionate about something, you should pick it up and run towards it.
P: How was the dynamics of your team, and how was Rifath, the youngest among your team, as a leader?
VB: We were our own leaders. Each one of us was like a kid. We used to argue about each and every single line or idea, and through these arguments, we came up with the silliest of ideas, which we implemented! There is nothing wrong with a student asking a silly question. His mind may be running somewhere else! After all, the idea for the smallest satellite came from a gulab jamun and two wandering minds, right? Had we told people that we were making a satellite after looking at a Gulab Jamun, they’d be like ”Ae, yenna? Fools ah you are?”. A dessert…into something in space!
Coming back to the team dynamics. Rifath was the lead scientist. We had to enroll students under the age of 18, and that person could be accompanied by a team. That was Rifath. Tanishq was our flight engineer and Sai was the lead technician. Vijay is the ‘nerd-coder’ of our team, and we argue over each and every line of a code.
(Vijayalakshmi Narayanan) VLN: We used to argue and clash over whose is better and the next day, we’d be fine…
VB: This was a healthy competition and at the end, we agree over whose idea is better and finally implement that. About the others, Kashif is a crazy guy, He just manages to get ideas out of nowhere.
Srimathy Ma’am was our mentor and mom. We also have a manager. His name is Arun. Arun is the backbone of our company. If we say something is not possible, he’ll come up to us and would be like ’Dei,ennada sonna?! It is possible.’ And me, I am the structural engineer of the team, and I designed the structure of the satellite. Then there’s Gopinath. We sent seeds into space to study the viability of space agriculture, so he is the siddhar, the biologist of our group. He’s making an energy bar, that costs just 15 bucks. And it has no expiry date!
P: So what have you used in making…
VB: If I tell you that, then we’ll be out of business! It’s our product, bro!(laughs)
P: So what were your findings, or the results of your research?
VB: Honestly speaking, we haven’t yet fully derived our results out of it. We were given, like, twelve minutes in orbit, and for every second, the Geiger Counter counts three values. So we have loads of values, and it’s been divided into three segments. I guess the data for one of these segments is out. The rest will be out soon.
P: My last question to you. How much did all of this take out of you?
VLN: It’s not about sacrifice. It’s about how motivated you are. So for instance, you are doing engineering now, right? In your third or fourth year, you will learn about your core subjects. That is the time when you have to explore things about your field and perfect yourself in your field. You’ll enjoy it then, and and it will give you the motivation to push yourself.
THE BRIDGE would like to thank the ‘SpaceKidz’ guys for their time. We’d also like to thank the folks at the Global Leaders Forum who made this and other interviews possible.