Space expo takes futuristic flight

A Space Food lab with ready-to-eat delicacies condensed into unearthly tubes; a Mars Rover prototype with an outstretched robotic manipulator eager to impress the Isro top brass; and a dirt-soaked space crew module that looked as if it had just touched down from space.

Ready for blast-off, the sixth biennial Bengaluru Space Expo (BSX-2018) beckoned tech buffs in droves at the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre (BIEC) here on Thursday. India’s first manned mission, Gaganyaan was on everyone’s lips and the alien-like displays were all set to play game.

At first look, the Space Food lab packaged by the seasoned Russian veteran of a thousand space flights, Glavikosmos raised no eyebrows. But when the stall attendant, Polina Prokhozova said those toothpaste tube-sized condensed food was every cosmonaut’s daily diet, a halo suddenly hung over the lab. To good effect, she added: “They eat these six times a day, a can at a time.”

But the appetite for more on space food was waning. At the far end hovered this Mars Rover prototype, looking straight out of a sci-fi flick. Last June, a team from Vellore Institute of Technology had built it from scratch, competing with 104 global student teams for the University Rover Challenge arranged by the US-based Mars Society. Eventually, the Team Rover X of Pranav Kumar, Aditya Kapoor and Harshith Agarwal had entered the top 30.

It took three months to design, five months to prototype and another two months to test. The team now wanted to impress Isro. “It has a robotic manipulator capable of extracting samples, and interacting with tools to help astronauts,” explained Pranav with much pride.

Weighing 48 kg, with a communication range of 2 km, the Rover did impress during testing at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, USA, Pranav recalled. “We now want to optimise it, reducing the weight to 30-35 kg. But we need more funds to make it more robust. This prototype cost us Rs 9 lakh.”

But these cost considerations were beyond the imposing Crew Module, displayed right at the exhibition hall entry point. Yes, it never carried any crew. But, blasted off from the earth’s surface in December 2014, the module had experienced extremely high temperatures around 1,500 degrees Celsius on re-entry.

An Isro staffer, Gaurav Yadav explained its intent and design: “This was developed to simulate the external aerodynamic shape, and gain confidence in parachute-based deceleration system.” Yadav and every engineer inside India’s premier space agency knew it was critical for Gaganyaan. For, its success would heavily depend on the astronaut’s safety, and survival.

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Space expo takes futuristic flight

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