Excellence in Aerospace Research

By Thomas Abraham 14-Jun-2018

The Centre for Aerospace Research has been actively involving in projects from various funding agencies viz. DRDO, CSIR, GIL and other State Government Departments. CASR has been making several pathbreaking achievements in unmanned systems sector. The UAVs developed under earlier and recent programmes are being used extensively for various civil applications viz Security, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, Detection, Crowd Monitoring, Traffic Control, and Photogrammetric Mapping, says Dr. Senthil Kumar, Director, CASR. He talks about the various initiatives by CASR and MIT in aerospace research and UAV development.

1. Could you talk about the various initiatives of Centre for Aerospace Research (CASR), Anna University?

The Centre for Aerospace Research (CASR) was established in the year 2001 in Madras Institute of Technology (MIT) Campus. The Centre for Aerospace Research has been actively involving in projects from various funding agencies viz. DRDO, CSIR, GIL and other State Government Departments. College of Engineering, Guindy were involved in the design, development and integration of ANUSAT, the Microsatellite, successfully launched aboard a PSLV-CA designated PSLV-C12, in April 2009. ANUSAT was a cube with 600-millimetre (24 in) long sides, and a mass of 34 kilograms.

The second major programme handled by CASR was to set up a High Temperature Material Characterization facility to know about the material properties and material behaviour for design of Aerospace Systems. This was principally an R & D Research principal activity which centred around Material Characterisation Experiments, Database generation and Thermo structural analysis. Material characterization is being carried out by various research laboratories and research scholars of Anna University. In 2016, Govt. of Tamil Nadu has accorded CASR for the “Design and Development of UAV for Societal Applications” based on the earlier efforts put in by the Centre.

CASR has successfully designed developed and tested the DHAKSHA- Mini Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), which provided the public safety and rescue operations with real-time video and stable, high-resolution imagery. The short-range tactical rotor craft system’s is easy to launch and recover in almost any harsh environment. It is highly tolerant of sustained winds and wind gusts, thereby achieving stable aerial imagery through an advanced onboard control system. Video imagery is transmitted to the handheld ground control station and distributed to decision makers for real-time viewing.

2. Madras Institute of Technology (MIT) and CASR have made several pathbreaking achievements in unmanned systems sector. Could you talk about it?

CASR has designed and developed Fixed Wing and Rotary Wing UAVs (Quadrotor) for various utilities. Recently, the Centre has developed a Hexarotor unit powered by a tether cable and gasoline powered Heli UAV. The team has mastered the type of small drones that could be deployed for civilian purpose. The system has been used to locate people during natural disasters using thermal camera which can sense temperature variation and track the location of the body. It can also capture high quality visuals of inaccessible terrain using HD camera.

The Revenue Department of the State Government has used the UAVs developed by CASR in various districts of Tamil Nadu for monitoring the crop health towards providing insurance coverage caused due to natural calamities. The UAV has also been used for survey of granite quarries where illegal granite quarrying by recording aerial footages.

3. What are the various academic programmes by the Department of Aerospace Engineering, MIT to nurture aerospace research?

The Department of Aerospace Engineering was established in the year 1949 at MIT Campus, was the first department to offer an undergraduate (UG) programme in Aeronautical Engineering in India. The department has been leading the way in propelling indigenous research in aerospace field through the competent and qualified faculty with highly sophisticated laboratory facilities. The department runs full-time and part-time UG and PG programmes. The department also offers MS (By research) and PhD research programs in various areas related to Aerospace Engineering.

The program DMIT (Aeronautical Engineering) was started in the year 1949 with B.sc (Maths / Physics/ Chemistry) as the eligible qualification and Anna University was established in the year 1978 with MIT as one of its constituent colleges. From that year the Degree was awarded as B.Tech (Aeronautical Engineering).

Now, the four-year B.E. Aeronautical Engineering curriculum is designed and made to make the students understand the concepts in various areas of Aeronautics. The curriculum deals with essential subjects like Mathematics, Science, and courses of Aeronautical Engineering including technical electives and management related courses. After graduation, many students get placement in various organizations such as DRDL, ADA, HAL, ADE, ISRO, Research Laboratories and software companies.

Our UG programme focuses on providing intensive training in solving problems, designing aircraft, hands – on laboratory exercises, working on the problems of National Laboratories etc. The notable Alumni of the Department are Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Former President of India, Dr. R N Agarwal, Former Programme Director, AGNI, Dr. M Ganapthy, Vice president, Tech Mahindra, Dr. K Sivan, Chairman Indian Space Research Organisation etc. We have collaboration in the field of research and development with United Kingdom, China, United States of America, Canada etc.

4. Recently, during the Theni wildfire, you have led a team of scientists and deployed drones to help guide rescuers to the people stuck in the forest. Please talk more about the role of MIT drones during the incident?

Number of sorties of UAVs were flown in search of trapped trekkers if any, so that their positional details can be provided to the rescue team for their rescue operation. The efforts were fully appreciated by the Government Authorities.

5. The UAV Tethercopter has won several accolades at various expos and has even caught the attention of the IAF. Could you talk about the unique features of Tethercopter? What are the latest updates?

In a separate programme funded by the Govt. of Tamil Nadu, the Police Force is carrying out Security, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, Detection, Crowd Monitoring and Traffic Control etc utilising the drones developed by CASR. Recently, the same drone has been used for crowd control. The elite Commando Force / STF of the Tamil Nadu Police has used the same system for insurgency operations recently.

The centre has commenced a new development activity towards tethered UAVs for long endurance operations. The tether is a cable which is connected to the UAV from the ground to provide the required power for running the electrical motors. It would greatly increase the flight time of the UAV which in most designs is limited by the UAVs battery life. Additionally, a cable that could transmit data from the UAV to the ground control station will be a great improvement and this could probably increase the rate at which UAV could transfer data as well as solve any problems with accessing the data the UAV collects.

In a real Defence scenario, a tethered UAV can be used as a Virtual Mast towards enhancing the communication range of tele-command and telemetry signals in the difficult terrains. Such an activity is also on the anvil. Sufficient flight testing has been carried out on the above tethered vehicle and the system is capable of flying for about 3 to 4 hours at an altitude of 100 meters.

6. Having specialised in drones, what is your opinion about the UAV market and its applications in India?

India offers huge market for aerospace sector as a major consumer as well as manufacturing. Indian entrepreneurs and industrial units are, now, strongly graduating and penetrating the aerospace supply chain. Indian UAV Market is projected to record $421 Million by 2021. Expected introduction of regulation by DGCA would promote its penetration in civil commercial market applications, retail and hospitality application sectors. India tops the list of drone-importing nations with 22.5% share in world UAV import. Conversely, in the coming years, India is planning to rely comprehensively on its homeland domestic production of UAS/UAVs under Defence Offset clause & “Make in India” policy to gain business deals for the Indian public & private sector companies.

India is expected to emerge as the world's third largest aviation market by 2020 and the global OEMs in aerospace and defence have a very strong supplier network in India. So, there is a huge potential to employ trained professionals passing out from the major academic institutions.