23-year Old Suraj Jana is the Young Satellite Mind of India
23-years old Opencube Labs’ founder, Suraj Kumar Jana, is the brain behind one of India’s first ever CanSat program− the process of converting empty soda cans into minisatellites. There’s even more to his credit. Read on to know the full story.
Suraj draws his inspiration from personalities like Bill Gates and Elon Musk.
Talking about his venture, he says, “The idea of CanSat came to us in late 2014. I was doing an online internship and met a friend from Europe. From her, I got to know how the CanSat program was already being successfully used by European schools and colleges. That is when I decided to bring the CanSat program to India. In fact, we were one of the first amateur space groups to venture into this direction”.
On being asked why only soda cans are used, he replies, “By using empty soda cans, we are putting the waste to good use and since the cans are made of aluminium, which is a very light-weight material, it is easy to take off”.
Talking about the cost of such satellites, he explains, “The cost of making each such satellite varies depending on the kind of payload. If it is a simple weather monitoring satellite, it would cost around 10-15k. If it is for thermal imagery or air quality measurement, the cost of payload increases depending on the kind of the required sensor. It can go up to 3.5 lacs as well”.
Beginning of a Passion
Talking about his formative years, Suraj says, “My dad is from the Indian Airforce. We used to move all across the country every 2-3 years- Allahabad, Chennai, Jamnagar, etc. My initial brush with technology happened when I was in the 6th standard in 2006. My father got us a home PC and it was then that I started exploring different computer languages. Also, I was always interested in mathematics and science since childhood. But it was only after reaching Chennai in 2007 that I started meeting a lot of people from science and technology background. It was then that I started applying my scientific knowledge to things. Following that, I did my engineering from BMS Institute of Technology”.
On being asked how the lab came into being, he replies, “In 2014, NASA organized an annual hackathon− NASA International Space Challenge. Me and my friend participated in the challenge and won. We had created CQARA (Coastal Quake Alert Response & Analytics), which was designed to predict earthquakes about 45 days before they would actually strike. That’s when it all started. We thought of creating an open data community. Initially, we tied up with a couple of colleges, and even IIT-Kharagpur and IIT-Mandi came onboard. Hence, OpenCube Labs was born. We brought in the interested students and started off the community. There are now 145 colleges across India that are involved with us. CanSat program too has been developed under Opencube Labs”.
Suraj further elaborates, “At Opencube Labs, we organize the CanSat development workshop, which is a 2 days informative workshop wherein we try to bring in the concept of space technology to the classroom. We explain to the students what exactly happens in a space mission and we also teach them how to develop small-scale satellites. Now, we are also manufacturing a couple of products related to environmental monitoring, which we would be launching in the market in the next two months. We also run a community titled Open Date Hack in association with organizations like RHOK (Random Hacks of Kindness) and the U.N. that organize hackathons on an international level”.
The mini satellites under the CanSat program are capable of transmitting data to various control stations. Their team is in a tie-up with World Merit, India and RHOK. World Merit is the UN-funded global community that works towards solving civic problems and coming up with sustainable development plans. RHOK is a global community run by the developers of Google, FB and Twitter. With respect to the local bodies in Bangalore, OpenCube Labs is working with Share Homes and Center for Intelligence Society (CIS). Suraj’s team is continuously striving towards building more such collaborations with the government of Karnataka.
About funding, he explains, “We are a self-funded small team of enthusiasts. We had received some funding from our college when we were still students. We also have some support from the Kalpana Chawla Research Center at IIT-Kharagpur, where we have some students who help us build stuff. We also have a company, Engenious Aerospace Limited, which keeps helping us from time to time”.
For their further course of funding, he says, “We are looking for some investors and mentors to take OpenCube Labs to the next level. Saying that, we are also contemplating the option of crowd-funding”.
Opencube Labs is an ‘open for all community’. Anyone with a potential project can approach them. They validate each project based on parameters like viability and application. Apart from CanSat and hackathons, Opencube Labs is also in the process of tying up with various research institutes to take their research activities to another level. So any interested individuals out there can just drop a mail on firstname.lastname@example.org.