Replace satellites before they die

Image of Oceansat-2 from ISRO. Source: Wikimedia Commons

There was news recently that an issue with the attitude control system caused the end of life of the Megha-Tropiques mission. The satellite had completed more than ten years in orbit. This reminded me of a comment we had submitted to the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

One of the comments I had written as part of The Takshashila Institution’s comments to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests, and Climate Change addressed said:

The Department of Space must aim to put in orbit replacements for operational satellites before they reach end-of-mission life and not of end-of-design life.

pg 7, Comments to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change on Demand for Grants (DFGs) in the Union Budget for FY 2022-23

With reference to Megha-Tropiques, which had a mission life of three years, I meant that we seek to replace them before the end of three years and not the ten years it eventually served because its parts were designed to last this long.

Perhaps, replacing Megha-Tropiques was not top of mind at ISRO or CNES, the French space agency. But, consider a satellite that we plan to launch in the near future, Oceansat-3.

Oceansat-1 was launched in 1999 and had a mission life of 5 years. Oceansat-2, the replacement for Oceansat-1, was launched in September 2009, six months after 10 years of Oceansat-1’s launch anniversary. Oceansat-1 survived for 11 years.

Oceansat-2 had a mission life of 5 years. The scanning scatterometer (SCAT) on board the Oceansat-2 failed after 4.5 years. In 2016, India launched a satellite, SCATSat-1, to replace the functionality. Oceansat-2 has now been functional for 12.5 years. Oceansat-3 has been plagued with delays. The new launch date for Oceansat-3 is now August-September 2022.

The pandemic played a role in the delay. If Oceansat-2 had failed after 11 years like it’s predecessor, we would not have a Oceansat. What would that mean? The Wikipedia page says:

Oceansat satellites facilitate a range of applications including documenting chlorophyll concentration, phytoplankton blooms, atmospheric aerosols and particulate matter as well as marine weather forecast to predict cyclones.

Oceansat Wikipedia page

Forget if the others don’t make sense to you but imagine not being able to predict cyclones with accuracy. Remember the claims of being able to predict cyclones much earlier and hence being able to save more lives? What happens if that function goes kaput?

It was that functionality that was lost and was replaced by SCATSat-1 in 2016. That instrument has now been running for 5.5 years. It has crossed six months since end of it’s five year mission life. Maybe it will survive eleven years like other satellites in the series. Maybe not. Hence, replace satellites before they die.

Update on April 10 @ 2126 hrs IST: @zingaroo on Twitter had an update on SCATSat-1:

Many other things could also go wrong. This is why redundancy is good. But, there are constraints. There are budgetary and people constraints. I think that is why we must work towards replacing the satellite as close as possible to the end of mission life.

This is not the first time I am making this point. I had written an article for The Wire Science in 2019 where this was one of the issues that I had raised. In the article, I applauded ISRO because it was doing much better at replacing satellites of the CARTOSAT series compared to other remote sensing satellites just after mission life.

I thought of putting the suggestion again in the comments to the Parliamentary Committee because I thought the pandemic reinforced the lesson. In case of an unforeseen incident because of which we are not able to replace a satellite before mission life, we have some tolerance before if we launch it before end of design life. But, it we launch it close to end of design life, there is a possibility that there may be a loss of the satellite before we can launch the replacement.

NaPoWriMo 2022 #5

This is #5 in the prompts for NaPoWriMo.

Spices and Seasonings

She remembered a time,
When the food wasn't bland and dry,
It had spices and seasonings,
And accompaniments and fries.

She remembered a time,
When rain poured from the dark sky,
When children played in puddles,
Without a worry, nor wondering why.

Now the food was bland,
As spices were lost to a fire,
Neither were there seasonings,
Because there was no one to hire.

It was just her,
Alone on Earth,
Wondering if anyone would come to save her,
Or at least get her some spices and seasonings.

NaPoWriMo 2022 #4

This is #4 in the prompts for NaPoWriMo.

the taste of an emotion

My therapist and I, 
Had tried so many things,
We had had so many sessions,
That my wife thought we were havin' flings.

I was getting desperate,
Will there ever be any cure,
We had tried so many things,
But there wasn't anything but a lot of furore.

Finally she looked at me,
Asked me point blank,
What's the taste of your emotions,
I tasted nothing, I said, being quite frank.

But then having food at home,
Quite anxious what my wife would say,
About my session with the therapist,
I felt anxiety taste bitter for the first time that day.

NaPoWriMo 2022 #3

I missed #2 in the prompts for NaPoWriMo. The numbering scheme is the prompt number and not the poetry number.

a broken object you continue to hold onto...

I am a minimalist,
So, I don't hold on to objects.
I am a spiritualist,
So, objects don't really hold me.

But, there was this one broken object,
I held it and it held me.
It was a simple Swiss knife.

It was just loose,
Although everyone else insisted 
That it was broken

The knife was with me,
Through several highs and 
Many more lows.

It was with me when I,
Used it to uncork that wine bottle,
On our beautiful honeymoon.

It was with me when I,
Had to tear open the letters,
When I was separated from my lover.

It was with me when I,
Wanted to fix my daughter's,
Broken toys and odds and ends.

It was with me when I,
Had forgotten to clean my nails,
Jus' before a work meeting.

It was with me when I,
Had to open a bottle,
Of jam for my daughter.

But now, when it is broken,
It is they, who ask me to throw it away,
They know not all that it has taken.
While I hold it and it holds me!

NaPoWriMo 2022 #1

April is celebrated as National Poetry Writing Month. An Instagram user I follow, @literarychills helped with a daily prompt for each of the thirty days. These are just my practice off-the-cuff efforts.

An Overrated Adjective

Do not use adjectives,
That was the simple directive,
I used the word overrated,
Realized too late that it's an adjective.

I was taken to a Remedial Room,
Where a machine went zip-zap-zoom,
The next thing that I realized,
Was that I had forgotten all adjectives.

A First Step to better Space Situational Awareness

It was three years after the Kargil war in 1998. It was more than a month after the deadly attacks of September 11. A Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) carrying a satellite with possible military applications was launched from India’s space port, Sriharikota.

Cover of the Jan-Mar 2003 edition of Space India. Source: ISRO.

The armed forces wanted a way to watch the border with Pakistan. The satellite launched on-board the PSLV-C3 mission had a capability to see vehicles on the ground (1 m resolution) and could hence help spot infiltration bids by military or terrorists from across the border from Pakistan.

This was the Technology Experiment Satellite (TES). The launch took place without much fanfare.

But, this mission had a more lasting impact than just this important near-term national security mission. Flying with TES, were the Belgian PROBA and the German BIRD satellites. The PSLV after placing TES and BIRD in circular orbits, moved using its yaw RCS thrusters to place PROBA in an elliptical orbit. Each of these customers paid India $1 million for the mission. This was a big deal then, being just the second commercial mission that India was flying.

PSLV-C3 sequence of satellite separation. Illustration in the Space India edition Oct-Dec 2001.

This demonstrated PSLV capability to place multiple satellites in multiple orbits. So, the primary satellite could be placed in one orbit while the ride-share satellites could fly to the same or other orbits.

Within a couple of months of the launch, the fourth stage of the satellite broke-up on 19 December, 2002. A paper written for the 34th Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Scientific Assembly held in Houston, USA, by P Bandopadhyay, R Sharma and V Adimurthy identified the cause as explosion. They predicted that 75% of the debris would decay in the Earth’s atmosphere by end-2002.

In the Space Situational Assessment 2021 that ISRO released yesterday, they shared that 76 (almost 20%) of the 386 debris pieces from the PSLV-C3 fourth stage explosion still remain in orbit.

Although ISRO knew that passivation was important, this mission seems to have prompted active ISRO efforts towards passivation of upper stages of launch vehicles and spacecrafts of ISRO. This 2019 paper by Santosh Kosambe throws light on these efforts to reduce the contribution of space debris because of ISRO launches.

A K Ganeshan, then with the Flight Dynamics Center at ISRO Satellite Center (now, U R Rao Satellite Center) wrote a piece about space debris in the January to the March 2003 edition. This, seems to be one of the first public write-ups on the issue published by ISRO.

Ganeshan and Adimurthy (from the 2002 COSPAR paper above) wrote a paper together in Acta Astronautica in February 2006. This seems to be a seminal paper in the active efforts ISRO took in reducing space debris.

The Space Situational Assessment shares important information about Indian assets (spacecraft and Indian space debris) in orbit broadly. It shares the methods by which ISRO tracks these objects (optical telescopes and radar). It also shares the debris avoidance maneuvers it has performed to protect Indian space assets (satellites and even the Chandrayaan-II orbiter).

Sharing this important information publicly is an important first step. Transparently sharing this information with data (two-line elements) would be the logical next step.

ISRO has been building this capability with a series of optical telescopes and radars to be installed for monitoring. This would be the basic institutional infrastructure required since India is responsible, as per international law, for accidents in space caused due to Indian space assets (spacecraft and debris).

My former colleague at Takshashila, Aditya Pareek and I had written a piece in The Wire Science asking for more involvement from the open-source intelligence community. ISRO must encourage the growth of this talent in India. The sharing of the data with two-line elements will help the development and growth of an Indian community.

India has also begun the process of opening up the space sector for private companies. As private companies build spacecraft and launch vehicles, there would be an increase in the number of space assets to be monitored. While ISRO built infrastructure can monitor these, Indian companies should also become part of the solution. Companies like LeoLabs show how private companies can help solve this problem.

As the number of Indian assets in space grows, it will become increasingly important to work with other space-faring nations which may endanger Indian assets or vice-versa.

In short, we will need institutional capability, amateur enthusiasts, private companies and collaboration with other space-faring nations to keep Indian assets in space safe and to reduce Indian liability in case of any space accidents.

Why I do not like my own voice?

Photo by Ku00fcbra Arslaner on Pexels.com

I have also had a love-hate relationship with music. Sometimes, literally. It was while learning music that I realized that I did not undergo a change usually available to boys. It left me with a lack of confidence in my voice.

The name of the change is violent. Breaking of the voice. My voice did not break, but my heart did. The first time that I remember.

While I forget the reason for joining the music class, I do remember why I kept going. I went to meet a girl. Most of our conversation was in innocent smiles. The love was never expressed. No words were exchanged. I would not classify it as romantic love. But, it was at a time when I was introduced to my hormones.

The love was shown in trying to match musical talent. The music teacher, who will soon turn villain in this story, was the judge. When either of us did well, he would speak words of encouragement. We would both smile to each other. He would make us sing once again in front of one or both of our mothers, who accompanied us to these classes. That was a special high.

My voice did not change. But, my music teacher thought that a change was coming and asked me to quit learning music. I moved to another music teacher and continued learning for another year. The shock of the request of my former teacher was such that I lost all love for music and in a couple of years, quit learning music.

It broke my heart to quit learning music. I feel I would be a totally different person today if I had continued learning music. But, later in life, this was an illustrative study in how deeply a teacher can affect the mind of a student.

The point of writing this post is not to blame the teacher, but to explain why I do not like my voice.

This loss of confidence in my own voice, led to me stop directing or playing a part in plays. This stopped me from volunteering to speak in elocutions, debates, presentations and speeches. This stopped me a few years ago from starting my own podcast. It stops me from speaking in Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse. This stops me from trying to put my voice in YouTube videos.

I speak only on occasions where the idea overpowers the voice.

A Meetup in March

I could not find my black Pilot V5 pen. No, that’s wrong. I did not go looking for my black Pilot V5 pen. On the days that I do not write in my analog Bullet Journal, I find myself out of control.

I write to think. I write to connect the ideas. Only a few bread crumbs of those ideas, find their way as a blog post on this blog. I want to write more because I want to think more. I want to think more to learn a little more about this world.

It was with this intention that I joined the Clear Writing course. I hoped that the course would improve my practice of writing. I did not want to make what I write better. I wanted to make myself write more here. I completed that course in January 2022.

The creator of the course had gone on a trip to Bengaluru to record a few episodes of his long-form podcast. He decided that he would take this opportunity to meet a few of his course participants while he was there. This made a few Punekars jealous and who decided to have their own meetup. With or without the creator of the course.

An announcement email went out. This was followed by expressions of interest in being a part of the meetup. With or without the creator of the course. The interest swelled in the email thread. For better planning and co-ordination, a WhatsApp group was created. About twelve people joined the group.

A political and economic institution was proposed as the location of the meetup. A Sunday morning was picked for the time. The pictures on Google Maps pointed to a British-era institution. This formed the basis of my decision for going for the meet-up. Meeting interesting people would be the cream between the biscuits. I don’t like the cherry on the cake.

I went for the buildings but I enjoyed the conversation with the people more.

Coming back to the meetup.

In the early hours of the morning of the meetup, the Punekar who had been jealous and had said we should meetup pulled out because of a family emergency. A huge question mark now hung on my bedroom ceiling. Should I get up early on a Sunday morning when the meetup may involve just me?

I think only those pictures of British-era buildings pushed me out of the bed and into the bathroom. Since, you the reader, would not want to know the details of my morning constitutional, let’s skip to the drive to the location.

I wanted to tip the hat the Creator of the Course, even if he would not be coming. So, I played one of his long-form podcast episodes while Google Aunty (I picked the female voice on the app) directed me to the location.

Google Aunty took me to a location that had the board of the place where I wanted to go but road blocks so that I could not go in. This could have been one of those rides where Google Aunty would take you to the back of someone’s cattle shed. But, the WhatsApp group had warned that the front gate of the institution was undergoing renovation and an alternative gate would be available to enter into the institution.

But, to the side of the under-renovation gate, I saw the beautiful (for a Mumbaikar) parking – ergo, paid – lot. I parked there.

I spent my slow walk to the campus of the institution frustrated by a building that hid the British-era buildings that I had hoped to see. The building housed a hotel (quite a famous one, it seems), a co-working space and a few start-ups or companies.

Then, I saw the well laid-out British-era buildings with sloping red roofs. The buildings were laid out as if space was not a constraint. I think most of the expectations from the trip was met when I saw the buildings.

Of the twelve who first expressed interest and joined the WhatsApp group, the leader fell to a family emergency, a couple fell to illnesses and the rest other than the four of us who turned up there were probably sleeping a few extra hours, it being a Sunday.

We moved from the extraordinary British-era campus to an open-air hotel serving breakfast. I was slightly disappointed by this move, but as if to make up for it, we went to the hotel from a gate at the back that allowed me to explore more of the campus.

In the hotel, I heard polite conversation, friends catching up after a week away from each other, morning strollers catching up on local gossip and friends meeting up after ages. Conversations happened in English, Hindi and Marathi. I heard a few words of Kannada but that was drowned out by the other languages.

Our conversation started with which cohorts we belonged to. There was a person here from the first cohort! As if to continue the trend, she was also here in the first meetup of the alumni in Pune.

The conversation mirrored the conversation outline of the long-form podcast. We broke ice with talking about ourselves. What we did, where we came from, what we wrote, where we wrote. Then, we moved on to anecdotes from our lives that we used to make points. We used the anecdotes to discuss various issues, micro and macro.

We spoke of running, cycling, walking, tekdis not being places where we were taken to, if kidnapped; how we are able to or not able to impact the world, the difference between the ideal and the real and much much more.

If we had spoken for a couple of hours more, I am sure we could have shipped an episode of the long-form podcast. As in the podcast, I wished we could speak more.

We got up from the table having decided to leave. But, we continued talking, as we settled the bills. We even stood right in front of the bill payment desk and spoke some more. We spoke. We did not take photographs. But, then everyone had some call. We parted with half-good-byes. Perhaps, to return, to continue the conversation. The next time I come for the meetup, I will probably come for the people.

The people at the meetup encouraged me to share some of the anecdotes I had shared there. I got the feeling that I must sometimes write of the everyday. This blog post is an exercise to do this. To write about the everyday. To repeat something that I said above, and I quote:

<start quote>I went for the buildings but I enjoyed the conversation with the people more.<stop quote>.

The Power of Your Subconscious Mind (1963, Audible – 2019)

I was watching a video on how to read a book effectively, from the YouTube channel, Think School. The video had the app, Kuku FM as a sponsor. The app provides book summaries in Hindi and Marathi.

I listened to the Hindi summary of the book, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind. This summary was brilliantly written and performed by Neeta Iyer. This pushed me enough to buy the book.

The book in English is essentially what could be a precursor to The Secret. It involves various examples of self-suggestion to solve various issues in your life. I tried it out and realised that it did not work for me, as didn’t The Secret. Of course, I am to blame for this.

Joseph Murphy had visited India and there are a few Indian references and anecdotes.

The only thing this helped me with was my paused Audible purchases. I am now back on the Audible bandwagon and listening more. Thank you for that, Joseph Murphy.

Energy Management in COVID-19 aftermath

I wanted to intersperse how I used energy management intuitively while I was recovering from COVID-19 in my previous blog post about energy management. But, I left that out so that I can link to the post while writing future blog posts about managing with energy rather than with time.

In my blog post about COVID-19, I had shared that I felt better energy-wise only after February 8, 2022. However, this was followed by difficulty in focusing on the task and bouts of tiredness. I was not able to work beyond 2 hour chunks of time. I had trouble comparing text or reading on Indian Philosophy. I could also not read lighter non-fiction or fiction.

I decided to let the amount of energy I had decide when I worked. I put aside all other tasks and decided to do only my primary work role. I worked for two hours and then rested for half-an-hour. This has continued for the last two weeks. This meant I had to work longer to cover my 8-hour work day.

It required a lot of sleep and plenty of water to recover energy-wise. As of today, I would still say that I have recovered only 95%. I still feel bouts of exhaustion ergo I can now work for a 3-4 hour block. As I did with the 2 hour chunks, I repeated the process for the 4 hours chunk.

I think this gave me the experience of working depending on my energy situation. Although, I learnt this intuitively, Matt’s video helped me structure my practice in a much better way.