Recently Varun Bhalerao from Caltech University visited IIA and it was super pleasure to be with him and attend his talks. You combine a four years of IITB engineering training and on top of that the practical hands on work in a Space Technology lab at Caltech, you get Varun. An absolute genius when I met him years ago, in Fergusson college, he bagged gold medals in Astronomy olympiads in his junior college days. He made a rare switch from an EE Btech in IITB to Astro in Caltech!
He spoke about the new X ray space telescope they are building at Caltech, its requirements, capabilities, deployment schedules and many interesting things. The best part was Varun explained things very clearly, making it understood to the audience. The next day he spoke about other compact star objects and their studies.
The third day we visited some of our labs at CREST – IIA’s center at Hosakote. Apart from remote monitoring of Hanle’s observatory, this center has some ingenious labs for space technology testing and fabrication. The room is called Clean Room, because its dust particle density is ensured to be much smaller through filtered air supplied in the room. The room can be visited in special suits covering your whole body, and the transition to the rooms chambers is through an Air Shower. The chambers have successive cleanliness, in the sense that one has 3lac, 1lac, 10k and then even lesser number of particles larger than .5 microns per meter cube. the cleanliness is maintained to avoid any contamination of the space grade instruments. in Space telescopes, if you have even a small contaminant, then it will evaporate on exposure to the radiations, and spoil the entire set of observations.
The room had many ovens so to speak, containers where you can bake the material to specific temperature for evaporating its surface contaminants and then outgassing the vapors. if the vapors are more than allowed limit, the sample is sent back to the fabrication unit!
I learnt many new things, things not written in your textbook diagrams. for example, there is a pipe near primary in a reflecting telescope, which allows only the light reflected from secondary to go into it, thus avoiding any stray light directly entering in. Then there are axial and other safety precautions in the mounting of the telescope in the satellite. There are precautions on what materials you use to make all those small parts.
We also visited the optics lab where the research focus is on adaptive optics, a method of correction for atmospheric disturbance in the propagation of light from stars to the earth based telescopes. The lab had state of art facilities and equipments.