Reinventing Space with SpaceUp-IIST

The much-awaited third edition of SpaceUp in India, the unconference of space, was held in Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) on Saturday, 5th September 2015. With the promise of good food and unlimited snacks, around 300 participants took active part in the discussions pertaining to Space Sciences. There were sessions dealing with a multitude of topics ranging from space biology, which talked of the possibility of lifeforms we three dimensional beings are unable to comprehend, to the theory of black holes. This article hopes to cover all aspects of SpaceUp that were humanly possible by the TSR team with its reporters.

Astronomy and Astrophysics

The morning session in the Seminar hall was presided over by Dr.Umesh R. Khadane where a discussion on black holes, white holes and supernovas took place.

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”

This quote by Carl Sagan signalled the beginning of the discussion on supernova. Nuclear fusion generated pressure balances self gravity of a star, and throughout the life of a star, there is a constant tug-of-war between these two forces. After a few billion years, when the lighter nuclei becomes rare in the core, the hydrogen in the region b/w core and crust fuse. The resulting pressure will expand the star, and compress the core. The core keeps getting compressed, till the gravitational pressure equals electron degeneracy pressure. Beyond that it explodes as a supernova. Elements up to iron can be formed by the fusion reaction in the star’s core. But once iron is formed, it won’t fuse, as it highly stable. As a result, gravity overcomes fusion pressure, and a supernova is triggered. Heavier elements in the periodic table are formed due to the fusion of iron DURING a supernova due to the extremely high energy of the explosion.

The discussion on black holes talked about a general introduction to the concept including their formation when supermassive stars collapse under gravity. Other topics discussed included event horizon, singularity, schwarzschild radius, time dilation and also, the concept of gravitational lensing. The discussion on white holes were of a similar basis, only many weren’t aware of the term white holes. White holes, to put in simple words is exactly the opposite of a Black Hole. You cannot enter a white hole, you only come out of it. There was a heated debate as to whether a Black Hole and a White Hole could be the two ends of a wormhole, as you can only enter a Black Hole, and only exit from a White Hole.

Dhruva Space

Dhruva space, who helped organize this edition of SpaceUp, had begun as one of India’s first dedicated space startups. A very interesting point discussed was the setting up of Space Parks, much like the IT parks prevalent today. They could be office spaces with advanced equipment provided for the use by a large number of industries. Co-founder Mr. Narayan Prasad addressed the absolute need of exploiting the private space industries. Ventures between ISRO and private space companies (public private partnerships) were emphasized. While there were arguments regarding viewing private industries as competition, the possibility of technological advancements made by private industries backed by the research based approach of governmental organizations made clear that the aforesaid private companies are neither out to destroy the credibility of governmental organizations, nor take away their jobs.

National Space Society

The session by the National Space Society official Mr. Mark Barthelemy explored areas of outreach programs to inspire and encourage students to explore space education. While suggestions such as outreach programs to high schools and videoconferencing sessions were deliberated, exhibitions during Technical fests of colleges were accounted for as an option. Opportunities regarding internships and projects were encouraged and the possibility of a cross university collaboration especially with KAIST and other Korean Universities for projects were seen as upright options. Participation at the annual International Space Development Conference conducted by NSS was also welcomed. The next conference is in Puerto Rico and is expected to bring together leaders in space technology and applications.

Northern Sky Research

A Senior Analyst at Northern Sky Research, Mr. Prashant Butani talked about Business of Satellite Communication. He compared the revenue generation of the telecom industry and satellite industry as well as the advantages of satellite communication and brought out the needs for popularising the area. He then talked about High Throughput Satellite (HTS) which provide better throughput for the same orbital spectrum as that of a Fixed Satellite. These new generation satellite can provide considerably better coverage at remote location with significantly reduced cost. Mr. Butani, while talking  about the wifi speed at IIST, suggested the use of a  VSAT to speed things up a little bit.

Aniara Communications

Mr Ramesh is the Engineering & Services VP  at Aniara communications LLC and spoke about commercialization of satellites. Aniara focusses mostly on DTH and telecommunications because as was explained in the lecture by Mr Prashant Butani, the two account for more than 90% of space applications. The current scenario of Indian policy is not encouraging for companies like Aniara due to which they are based in the USA and operational in India. The work involves the design and manufacture of satellites which are often designated to other firms but final rights lie with the original company which enters into agreements with parties requiring the services.


The talk was given by Divyanshu Poddar, co-founder of rocketeers and an IIST Alumnus. Rocketeers  conduct model rocketry workshops all over the country. They aim to help students understand rocket science in a cooler, more exciting fashion. Divyanshu Poddar talked about the different kind of rockets they developed and the difficulties which they faced.  They have successfully built 3 model rockets. Smallest of which goes up to 300 feet and the largest which goes to 1100 feet and has a payload capacity of 10-12 grams. They have done approximately 1300 successful launches. The most fascinating part is that the motor is made from paper (and it sustains that much of thermal and structural loads). Using model rockets as an educational tool was also discussed, not only for school students but Aerospace undergrads as well. Model rockets can be used to understand flight mechanics, propulsion and many disciplines easily.

Space Law

The discussion on Space Law by Dr. Ranjana Kaul brought out the legal concerns of Space Technology. It started with a discussion on the demarcation of Airspace and Outer Space and the laws governing their use. The Moon Treaty with its 5 ratifications and 11 signatories and Anti-Satellite Weapons were discussed next, highlighting the space in Space Law that parties use to act in their own interest. A further discussion on Kessler’s Law and Liability in case of damages brought out the need for accurate analysis of accidents in space for Space Laws to be upheld. The intriguing  talk brought out the socio-political side of a branch considered completely scientific. Dr. Kaul concluded by asking the audience to not limit their multi-dimensional human brains and absorb information wherever and however possible.

Space Generation Advisory Council

SGAC is a volunteering organisation with a volunteer base across the continents. The discussion was regarding the work of the SGAC and its functioning. Aspects of scholarships provided and conferences held were discussed and the possibility of joint ventures were also discussed. Ms. Joyeeta having studied space law also took questions and participated in discussions pertaining to the legal concerns a Space Entrepreneur might have.

Team Indus

Team Indus began when a bunch of techies came across the words Moon 2.0. With a wonderful twist of fate, they ended up being India’s only team participating for the Google Lunar X prize and to make the fairy tale even more magical, they won 1 million USD in January 2015 for successful completion of their test of landing. SpaceUp, Trivandrum saw an incredible amount of enthusiasm of participants in interacting with the team represented by Mr Dhruv Batra and Mr Nakul Kukar. They spoke of the present ventures and also a few future ventures such as satellite busses of high altitudes and long endurance. The team consists of 60 or so engineers working towards making their lunar dream come true along with the guidance of former ISRO scientists. We wish them the very best of luck.

Overall, the participants were of the view that this was a unique and brilliant initiative that is definitely something that should be a regular feature. Quoting one of the participants, ‘we at IIST see the space industry as a very ISRO centric universe. SpaceUp helped us understand that there are so many more exciting areas of study related to Space and so much scope for a life beyond the government sector. Another participant was very enthusiastic about the opportunities and the ideas that SpaceUp helped realize. They found it wonderful that it was a forum where anybody could speak irrespective of qualification and just based on interest. On a concluding note, TSR, on behalf of all participants, congratulates the organisers of SpaceUp on bringing such an enriching experience to the students with minimum road bumps, and hopes to have the pleasure of reporting more such events in the future.

Author Profile

Shreya Mandal, Ankita Shandiliya, Priya Sarkar, Ritu Anilkumar, Sudheendra Raghavendra and Atma Anand were the editors of The Sounding Rocket, a monthly publication of IIST, Thiruvananthapuram who doubled up as reporters and attempted to cover as much of the unconference as possible. They were assisted by Rachana Reddy, Prakhar Agarwal,  Aravind R.S, Yash Joshi, Partha Surve, Pranjal Prateek and Sagnik Gharai.