"Sri Lankan's Launch to the Stars"

On the cold morning after Christmas 2020, the face of the Sri Lankan Space industry was changed forever, when 31 university students successfully launched Sri Lanka’s first ever High-Altitude Balloon that reached an altitude of more than 30 kilometres. The project; Serendib 1.0 was organised by the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) Sri Lanka, in collaboration with the Arthur C Clarke Institution for Modern Technologies.

The planning and development of the project began many months before the launch date and was headed by Mr. Bhanuka Ranaweera, who was the Project Leader for Serendib 1.0. The project was launched as part of a global competition called the Global Space Balloon Challenge, through which more than 671 teams participate around the globe from over 70 countries in multiple continents.

The Serendib 1.0 team compromised of 31 university students, from 18 universities around the country in both private and public educational institutions including the Universities of Peradeniya, Colombo, Moratuwa and NSBM. The students involved in this project were mostly undergraduates and a few graduates. The advisor for the Serendib 1.0 project was Dr Achala Pallegedara, who is a chemical and process engineer and senior lecturer at the University of Peradeniya.

The balloon was launched from the D. S. Senanayake college grounds, in Dambulla at 06.30 am local time. After a successful launch, the ground handling teams began tracking the balloon as it surged through the skies above the Central province of Sri Lanka. The team had installed a radiosonde which enabled GPS navigation and tracking of the balloon. The 401 MHz frequency range was used for the communication of the balloon with the ground teams

The balloon reached a maximum altitude of more than 33,000 meters. This altitude is magnanimous in nature, when compared to the altitude of aircrafts; A regular passenger aircraft flies at an altitude of 13700 meters, which is less than half of what the Serendib balloon achieved. The balloon reached an altitude similar to the highest ever skydive by Felix Baumgartner in 2012 at 101,000 feet.

After having reached its maximum altitude, the balloon completed the ‘burst’ phase and then proceeded to deploy its parachute. The parachute ensured a gradual decent of the balloon, where it was located in the middle of a paddy field, close to Maho in the North Western Province of the country. The balloon has travelled around 45 kilometres within its 3-hour flight duration.

The payload that was attached to the balloon held a plethora of equipment of scientific significance, which was used for high altitude atmospheric testing, communications establishment etc. The information that was gained from the project in terms of experimentation and scientific intelligence will be sent to the international judging committee for the competition.

As this was a day of history in the making, the event was broadcasted on multiple television channels and shows including Hiru News, Siyatha News, Derana and Swarnavahini. The event also had its own press conference, where senior members of the Serendib 1.0 project team explained the dimensions of the project, in order to instigate awareness and interest of space-based projects to the Sri Lankan populations. Website links to the broadcast of the event has been enclosed at the end of this article.

The vision of SEDS Sri Lanka is ‘Bringing together students of many disciplines from all corners of the country to celebrate student shared passion for all things about space”. The Serendib 1.0 project and launch were directly in line with the organisation’s vision to integrate students from all around the country to work on major projects.

While Serendib 1.0 was one of the largest astronomy related events in Sri Lanka, this is just the beginning for SEDS Sri Lanka, as plans have already been made to launch multiple high-altitude balloons of this nature to ultimately attempt to launch a CubeSat through a rocket from a high-altitude balloon at several thousand meters above sea level.

Having represented Sri Lanka in this major space competition and had a successful operational framework, SEDS Sri Lanka and the Serendib 1.0 team put Sri Lanka into the international spotlight in terms of student-based astronomy events, where international collaborations are being made now, for larger projects of a much more complex nature.

As the CEO of the Zero Gravity Corporation quoted; ‘Space is an inspirational concept that allows you to dream big’. SEDS Sri Lanka and the Serendib 1.0 project team believes in this with great faith and sees Serendib 1.0 as the first step to a world of endless possibilities for astronomical projects, both in Sri Lanka and on the global arena.


Edit By

Rashane Jude Pintoe

"Will red planet be our second home?"

Human, since their very first journey to the space, has conquered many battles now and then to win the outer space. Dedicating many animal lives like Laika, and walking through the very first age of the space sciences with astronomers like Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong, now we have come to an amazing target. It’s to make that red planet, Mars our second home. This is a bit of astonishing information we gathered by a specific person who must be talked when talking about Mars from the program named ‘Space Talk’ done by the YouTube channel of SEDS Sri Lanka. Born on 2001 in Lusiana, USA, Alyssa Carson, the first person that will land on Mars, shared her invaluable experiences and knowledge with Dasuni Hewawasam and Tamima Saba who are undergraduates of Eastern university at Space Talk. Alyssa’s life journey up to the point where she is now, will be a great stimulant for the children who haven’t given up on dreaming of achieving big challenges.

Q & A

A: Yeah sure. Ever since I was a little girl, I was interested in space and dreamed to be an astronaut. So, I was trying to do the things that related to the field and I know that the astronaut selection process is far away. So, I started building a resume with unique things to apply as an astronaut in one day. In that way I started to involve in the field as early as I could. I went to NASA space camps in really young age which were pretty much open to anyone and get involved in more events within the field doing space suit evaluation, microgravity, flight, g-force evaluation, water survival training and all sort of things that will be helpful in the space field one day.

A: Yeah of course. I did the same things that every kid does. I was jumping around different things that changed weekly from becoming a princess to a doctor. But obviously I had an interest on becoming an astronaut one day and the way I thought about that was like, I can grow up, become an astronaut, go to mars and then come back and be a doctor or do any professional I want. But being an astronaut is still the first on my list.

A: Of course. There’s definitely been several people along the way who have been really amazing and motivating me to keep going after my dreams and ambitions. There’s a one in particular, and she was astronaut Sandra Magnus. I met her when I’m around 9 years old, as the guest speaker in a little festival for getting girls interested in science and space. When I asked her when she was decided to become an astronaut, she replied that it was as around 9 years old and told me the age which I decided to be an astronaut does not matter if I wanted to really work hard and do whatever it could be to conquest my dream. So, I realized that I still can have a dream, work hard and one day it would become a reality. From the very moment I met her, I was inspired to continue pursuing my dream.

A: I was kept questioning about the space from my dad from the age I could remember and was like “have people ever been to mars?”, “is it possible?”. My dad explained me about the moon landings, Apollo missions and he said it’s possible that future people could go to mars. That was the start of everything. The thing that inspired me to question about the mars is an animated series on TV named ‘The Backyardigans’. I had a poster of their episode named ‘mission to mars’ in my bedroom, where they go on an imaginary adventure to the mars, do researches and rovers in there, flew a shuttle and I think it was the first place where I heard the word mars.

A: Actually, there are so many different types of astronauts. There is no one specific way to become an astronaut. You can be in different carrier paths like a scientist, pilot or study medicine and can-do different things to reach that point. For me, I’m more interested in science side. Currently, I study astrobiology in the hope of becoming an astrobiologist for a potential mission to mars. When talking about me gain such an interest in young age was because back then, I didn’t know that mars was real. In addition, it’s the closest planet to the earth and the most feasible place to go with our current technology. Some of us are interested in Venus, but it’s hotter and quite dangerous than mars, making mars as our first tackle to visit. All the researches that has done in past, too surround the mars. Many of the space agencies from all over the world has sent many rovers and satellites to study about mars. From this data, we have found potential for life and that sort of things on mars and therefore, we are really interested to the next leap, sending people to mars. Also, we are trying to figure out what we have to work with mars, is there any resource in mars that could help us here on earth, what kind of opportunities we have and is mars is suitable as a second home and is mars really able to colonize like things. The first missions to mars are just to really understand what we can do with mars.

A: Definitely there are still lot of challenges in the mission to mars. Obviously, there are lot of things that need to be worked out and to figure out. Radiation level between earth and mars, food supply and their storage for the time period of journey that is about one and half year or two years and importantly changes happen to our body, losing out bone density and muscle strength as our body isn’t working as we aren’t fighting with the gravity on the space. It’s true there’s some gravity on mars but it is not as same as in earth and when moving back to the earth, it can be a real challenge to the astronaut actually to recover and become as strong as they originally were. Numerous numbers of universities all over the world and different organizations carry out so many researches based on the cultivation on mars. Specifically, growing food on mars. Stuff like what kind of crops can be grown in Martian soil, what kind of food should we looking forward or what kind of diet should we looking forward are some research aspects that are concerned so we don’t have to pack all the food and it will become a solution for all the heavy weight that come with packing food. Now the space agencies have shifted again going back to the moon and then to the mars. So, going back to the moon in next several years will be kind of start of a test for really going to the mars. Actually, they are hoping to do some cultivations on the moon as a test before going to the mars to see what is the potential of cultivating mars in the mission to mars. Therefore, it will be a trial and error process in the next few years before we’re going to go to mars.

A: Obviously, mars is an extremely difficult place to land on. The people who worked in rovers landing on mars consider the seven minutes that the rover goes through the mars’ atmosphere, as the ‘seven minutes of hell’ as they don’t know whether it will crash into the planet, whether it will work as in the plan. Like that there are lot of difficulties to go to mars and to make sure everything goes according to the plan. So, we have learnt from the experiences and continue to learn about going to mars. When it comes to sending people to mars, the process must be many more accurate. We’ll be testing the rocket that will bring us to mars by going to the moon or just to the outer space and testing those systems to make sure everything works precisely till the end with all the rocket safety. At the same time, the rocket that will bring people to mars has been built and tested for many years repetitively and these testing will continue up till the mission to mars happens, to make sure every piece of it works in the way we want.

A: Actually, I did all sort of thing when I’m growing up and it wasn’t just the space. I played competitive soccer for ten years, I did piano, dancing, joined every club that school offer and even now I join some activities in the college. When I just want to relax, I watch Netflix, hang out with my friends, going for a walk or doing some casual soccer just like any normal person does. My recent time was spent on quarantine and we got a new dog and he has become my full attention when I’m out of my school works as he is still a little puppy.

A: I think that the most interesting thing about space is it’s huge and lot to explore. I think that you can never stop learning about the space when you are interested in space and we’re always discovering new things. Also, I always had a curiosity like what was on mars.

A: Yeah actually when you find something you’re really passionate in doing, study more about whatever that topic is. Its’ really important to be vocal about your dreams and tell people what are you interested in because you really don’t know who is listening. Imagine that you went to a robotic competition and tell someone that you’re interested in space robotics and that person might know some person who is related to that field. You really never know from where the opportunities will come from. So, don’t be shy to talk about your dream, specially within the space community as we need more people who are really interested in this field. You can’t really go alone in your path and need some supportive hand and it might be your friend, family member, a teacher or whoever knows about your dream. So, when you went there, you might be able to help some other to achieve in their dream. Keep the idea alive. A lot of the big aspirations and dreams are far away so, it’s important to remember that we can accomplish it. It just takes a good bit of hard work to get there. But don’t be afraid, keep going and reach out to grab your opportunities.

Edit By

Chathurika M. Herath