Space is a fascination for many, ambition for some, but a reality for a select few !

Shubhayu Sardar, our next pathbreaker, works at the Human Space Flight Centre located at Bangalore, carrying out design, development & realisation of various Life Support Systems that are a part of manned missions.

Shubhayu talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about being inspired by the book “Wings of Fire” and making up his mind to launch his career in Space.

For students, you can choose to contribute to the future missions of our own Space Program by opting for a career in Aerospace !

Shubhayu, tell us about your background? 

Inquisitiveness or curiosity towards anything is the motive that drives us to find our desired path towards a life goal in terms of career growth or personal development. 

Born into a family where education was the sole focus, I did well in studies since childhood. My father, being my inspiration and an engineer by profession, contributed immensely to my fascination with day to day technologies. I was born in Korba, a small town in the state of Chhattisgarh where my father worked for the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). As this was a transferable job, we later shifted to South India where my career shaped further. 

What we see around us is what inculcates our interest. Since my childhood I was always interested in toys not because I wanted to play with them but because of the small motors which made them move. More often than not, I would tear apart my remote-controlled toys, take out the small DC motors, fit them with tiny blades made from coconut oil cans and build battery operated fans for my study table. (This was actually appreciated by my parents and those who knew me.) I was very much interested in things that could fly since my primary school days. Whenever I saw an aeroplane in the sky I used to wonder what made them fly. Never did I know that these small things would actually set me in the path of being a space enthusiast and work for the prestigious Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). 

Apart from the tech part, I was very much inclined to sports and outdoor activities such as cricket, soccer, badminton, running and swimming. When I look back, I realise that these extracurricular activities are very much needed to create a spirit of teamwork right from the early stages of life. 

I would say that parents play a pivotal role in setting up the environment, giving the required direction and nurturing young ones to set up initial goals in life. My engineer dad and homemaker mom did the same for me and I thank them for what I am now. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation? 

After clearing IIT-JEE with a decent rank I chose to accomplish my dreams in space technology. Thus I did my BTech in Aerospace Engineering from the prestigious Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) located in Trivandrum, Kerala. 

What made you choose this career? 

As an intense thinker, I have always tried to figure out what I wanted in my life and where I wanted to go. The primary reason for selecting IIST was because of ISRO. I had already made up my mind that space technology and launch vehicles would be something I would like to pursue as my career interest. One of my biggest inspirations was our ex-president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and through his book “Wings of Fire” I could completely idolize him as a person who contributed greatly in this field. My dreams came true when I received my degree certificate from him as the chancellor of our college. 

We come across different events at times that shape our dreams and inspiration and give us a proper direction in life. One such inspiration was ISRO. Technological innovations and the workspace were amazing at ISRO, something that made me fall in love with work. After all, an organization that was born in a shed made it to such a big level with success in various aspects such as communications, defence and monitoring, interplanetary mission, multiple foreign client satellites launches and human spaceflight missions (in the near future). 

A common man says rocket science is difficult. But I would rather say it’s different because we will have many ways to make it simple and highly efficient with technological advancements. These ideas, brimming in me over a period of time, turned me into a rocket scientist. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path? 

The thought process in one’s life is the foundation for where we want to go and what we want to do. It’s always a proud moment for anyone to work for an organization such as ISRO. I believe in a practical approach towards life i.e. once we start thinking in the right direction, right things start to happen and our interest in it takes us to the next level to make our aspirations a success. This approach not only helped me but will help everyone if your thought process lies in a similar direction. 

Talking about scholarships, my entire bachelors degree was fully funded including hostel charges as we would join ISRO, and IIST was ISRO’s brainchild. Thus, at IIST, we got access to ISRO’s various facilities along with internships and projects. 

My internship and project happen to be within the same division at ISRO known as the Flight Dynamics Group (FDG) located in Bangalore. As an aerospace student, I was very keen on the interplanetary transfers of spacecraft which formed the backbone of ISRO’s Mangalyaan Mission. During my internship, I did a case study on it where I got to learn the key factors of interplanetary missions and simulating it before the actual mission took place. During my project in the final year, I got hands-on experience by successfully completing the trajectory design simulations for Earth to Mars spacecraft transfer which ISRO had planned in the near future.

Aerospace is a branch where you not only study about launch vehicles but also about spacecrafts that travel in the vast space. The main objective of any interplanetary mission is to provide maximum coverage (travelling distance) with minimal usage of fuel. This calls for multiple iterative calculations before the actual trajectory is set, defining an optimised velocity approach. We need to consider all the orbital (related to space) parameters along with the gravity effects for each and every heavenly body, which makes the process very intricate. Thus, we need to design the path or trajectory of each spacecraft keeping in mind the above critical parameters. My role as an intern was to study these procedures and parameters that define a successfully optimised trajectory and trajectory design. I would say it was fun because as a student I always appreciated learning from things which were not easy to set my foot into. Before each and every launch takes place, ISRO has a dedicated Mission team which does this trajectory study and its implementation.

How did you get your first break?

Never did I think that after joining ISRO, I would actually happen to work for India’s prestigious Mission Mangal in the field of rocket integration and spacecraft handling. That’s one of the Eureka moments of my life. 

My space mission design professor at college held a key role in connecting me to the FDG head and till date, I am connected to them and the division. This was the break that I needed to successfully place myself in ISRO and be a space enthusiast. 

What were the challenges? How did you address them? 

Challenge 1: According to me, a major challenge for anyone would be to set up a proper vision in life. In day to day life, we might think of multiple things to venture upon and get confused about where to land ourselves. A strong vision sets our goal towards achieving it, giving us the much-needed direction and proper decision making skills. 

Challenge 2: 

Staying strong is something that we should solely do whatever the situation in life might be. Life is like a sine curve with ups and downs. Thus, we might see a lot of things that we might not like or wish wouldn’t have happened. Staying calm and proper thinking makes us a better person and helps lead our life in the future. Giving time for oneself and getting a higher perspective of life is a challenge in itself. 

Challenge 3: 

Proper networking and communication skills is a challenge for many individuals. We should always listen and talk about what we feel is right without shying away and aim to achieve it. Highlighting our work is another aspect where we need to improvise upon. Experience is what makes us accept these challenges and move close to our goals. 

Where do you work now? 

Currently, I am posted at the Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC) located in Bangalore which is the wing for human space flight programs in India. I was initially developing life support systems for the astronauts as a core systems designer and developer. Now, I look into the techno-managerial part of it with a diverse team around me. 

Being a part of the prestigious Gaganyaan Project, the timeline for work remains critical. Also, the systems require rigorous design revisions and a null margin of error since there will be humans in loop machines that will ensure the lives of the astronauts chosen for the mission. Thus, each step in the design, development and decision-making process requires a lot of critical thinking. We often have setbacks in the initial stages, but a proper approach to the problem comes when we work as a team and solve them hand in hand in a methodological way. That’s because it’s a whole lot of systems merging together within a limited payload and space spectrum. Proper networking and communication along with deep roots in research and development are the key success goals here. 

A typical day at the office can be summed up by having multiple meetings with various national and international agencies, design reviews and iterations of the various systems and schedule-critical elements. 

I head my team in various aspects of technical and managerial support which I love the most since both are essential factors for any project to run smoothly. Also, it’s a dream to work for any mission-critical human spaceflight mission which requires the application of cutting-edge technologies which need to be adhered to strictly at the end of the day. Also, networking with various agencies and learning from multiple ideas is something that I like the most. 

How does your work benefit society? 

ISRO has benefited the nation in multiple ways in terms of communication systems, remote sensing, early warning disaster management systems, defence and a lot more. In the near future, human space missions will prove to be a crucial factor where we can think of setting up colonies in space and beyond. Being a part of this organization has always nurtured me in terms of giving back to society and benefiting the people. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you

There were a couple of cherishable moments at ISRO. The Mangalyaan Mission gave me hands-on experience on timelines coupled with mechanical rocket integration activities in my domain. Not only was it’s success a proud moment for myself but also for the nation. I was selected in the core team for the initial stages of the Gaganyaan Mission by Chairman, ISRO which comprised only 23 people from all the ISRO centres throughout the country. Shortly after, I was given the opportunity to lead a couple of critical systems which will be the baseline for life support systems for the astronauts during the complete mission profile. 

Prior to this, as a student at IIST, I got the chance to design and analyze the mars mission spacecraft trajectory during my internship and project which I am really proud of. I also presented a paper on – “Piezoelectric effects to suppress vibrations in flight actuators” which got selected in the final rounds of the Mahindra Young Engineers Award during my third year at college. 

Your advice to students based on your experience? 

Having a strong vision and setting up tentative goals inline with your vision is the key to success for anyone. Students have innovative thinking, zeal and creativity. All they need is to take it in the proper direction. Proper guidance will make them skilled in decision making which will strengthen their vision further and help them achieve success in any field. And lastly, we should always do things that we are interested in or inclined to, rather than forcefully doing something which is beyond our scope of interest. So one must believe in oneself. No matter what the situation is, they shouldn’t break down. I do believe obstacles come and disturb our laminar life, but these obstacles give us the correct direction to think and work upon what went wrong. Keeping positive is all that we got to do. 

Future Plans? 

Right now I am a part of the human mission and want to make this a success. In the future, I am open to starting something of my own within the space sector as this is where I belong and I find multiple scopes for research and development in this field. My primary motto remains the same, of taking humanity beyond earth into space.