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Friday, October 11, 2013

Transfer orbits, low-energy transfers and 20 years of career!

This day 20 years back (11th October 1993), a young graduate with a bag full of science books and few pairs of cloths landed here in Bangalore to pursue a career. Born in Andhra Pradesh, studied in Tamilnadu it is the third south Indian state Karnataka, I came to join Indian Space Research Organization as ‘Scientific Assistant – B’.

It was a long selection process to get to the job. I had to qualify a written test, an interview with a big panel of ISRO and IISc scientists, a police verification to join central government of India. With the planned Mangalyaan launch on 28th October, would like to give some science behind travelling beyond Earth’s orbit.

If we want to go to moon or mars we can’t aim a rocket towards the target and fire it. As the distance between earth and moon is about 4 million kilometers and to that of mars it is 400 million km. So, we need slightly intelligent way of going there. One way of going there is using Hohmann Transfer Orbit In simple terms, the spacecraft is placed in a highly elliptical orbit around earth and using a delta-v at right point transferred into another elliptical orbit at a suitable time to the target orbit.

There is another low-energy transfer using Lagrange points which will probably take longer transit time. The Interplanetary Transport Network (ITN) formed for deep space missions that travel purely using solar energy or very little fuel to fire the thrusters.

Mangalyaan is taking the first method of Hohmann Transfer Orbit between Earth and Mars to start it journey in this opportunity window to reach mars by November 2014. I wish all the best to my first employer in this mission which is going to prove the technology and ISRO’s ability to apply the science to take the satellite into orbit mars. There are challenges of handling the launch, orbit maneuvers, deep space communication network for both payload data and machine control (it is 20 light minutes distance between earth and mars at the maximum so the two way communication takes 40 minutes making it complex to manage the communications!) It is only unfortunate to see critics criticizing the cost of this mission which is around 450 crores Indian Rupees where as ONE Fodder scam is 950 Crores worth loss to nation; not to mention any other scams of recent past in India.

How is it related to my career? Even I ended up using the high energy transfer orbits and low energy transfers during this journey around different companies and quantum leaps to different roles on working on orbits to orbitals, providing management solutions to energy grids and computing grids, optimizing satellite operations to smart metering operations handling data movements in and out of commercial ERP systems and geospatial databases, deriving forecasts of orbits of satellites to insights from big data using analytics in these 20 years.

Apart from the science, math & technology, these 20 years took me around this little globe physically from India to Singapore to various European Countries (Belgium, Germany, France, Netherlands, Luxemburg) to UK then to USA, Japan, Korea; provided an opportunity to work with large enterprises from Australia, China, South Africa etc., to make me meet exceptional personalities from varied cultures, walks of life to interact and learn about the most colorful part of God’s creation.

A majority of the orbiting been with TCS, (which was my second employer between 1996 and 2006 for 10 years) followed by Oracle Corporation and IBM India Pvt. Ltd. to come back to TCS in 2011.

I take this opportunity to thank one and all who helped me through this journey, who have challenged me and those who have been neutral towards me; each of those gestures gave me immense experience and made the journey very colorful and interesting.

With entry and re-entry tested, I hope to go along on the orbit for few more years continuing my learning until the mission retires….