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Mr. Siddharth Krishnamoorthy - Research Scholar At Stanford University

Mr. Siddharth Krishnamoorthy
Research Scholar, Stanford University

 "We hope that if this method works, the simplicity will make it the top candidate for integration on board a spacecraft"

 

"The thing that worries me is the dropping interest in pursuing science and engineering as a career"

 

 

We had an opportunity to interact with Mr. Siddharth Krishnamoorthy who is pursuing his research in the area of re-entry communication. In this conversation, he speaks about his research,  his thoughts on future human settlement programs and also his personal opinion on educational system and how it could be made better.

We sincerely thank Mr. Siddharth for accepting our request and sparing his precious time with Indian Space Station. Please read further to know the detailed conversation.

 

Q.  Please describe your background giving out the following details
      Name: Siddharth Krishnamoorthy
      Native place: New Delhi, India
      School name and place: Stanford University, Stanford
      Graduated college/place: St. Stephen's college, IIT Delhi
      Expertise: Hypersonic flow, plasma physics
      Hobbies/interest: Piano, guitar, reading, hiking, rock climbing


Q.   Please describe your current occupation and doctoral research area

I am pursuing my PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics. I currently work at the Space Environment and Satellite Systems lab in Stanford University.

 

Q. Please describe the research problem that you are currently working on

My work focuses mainly on reentry communications. Reentry is the phase in spaceflight where (man-made) objects enter the Earth's atmosphere after spending time in space. I focus only on controlled and intentional reentries. My work involves studying the properties of hypersonic flows and thermal plasmas.

 

 

 

The word “hypersonic” is used to define flows with Mach numbers “much higher than 1” (usually >5-6). In the reentry problem, we encounter Mach numbers of greater than 10-15, depending on  where the spacecraft is coming from. Upon reentry, the kinetic energy of the reentering spacecraft ionizes the air around it. This forms a plasma layer – a layer of extremely mobile electrons which creates difficulties in radio communications with the spacecraft.


Q. Any unique approach or any interesting method being employed to solve the above problem

Many attempts at solving this problem have been mentioned in literature ranging from the use of water or freon gas to attract electrons away from the plasma layer, to shaping the spacecraft in ways that a protrusion could pierce through the plasma layer so we can communicate. So far, no methods have been  proven to be robust enough to use on an actual flight.

 

Q. How good is your solution compared to others?

The method I am proposing is inherently simple. It hasn't been proven yet – we are performing computations and hope to perform experiments in the future to test its efficacy. We hope that if this method works, the simplicity will make it the top candidate for integration on board a spacecraft. The safety of the payload (human or otherwise) is of prime importance in attempting any new method on board an actual flight.

 

Q. Please describe the possible Applications of your research to space domain.

My research is primarily intended for human spaceflight safety. During the Apollo missions in the 60s, the command module would go through 3-9 minutes of radio blackout during reentry. This is a huge safety hazard as this is one of the most critical phases during a flight and it is important to ensure radio contact. The method would also be applicable to the control of any future hypersonic transport systems.

 

Q. What is your personal opinion on how feasible is the human settlement on Mars by 2025 ? 

While I think a manned mission to Mars is a distinct possibility in the near future, constructing a human settlement comes with enormous challenges. We only recently made a huge leap in Martian landing systems by landing the Curiosity rover. Landing humans and materials for settlement would involve a much larger payload. Further, we have to address concerns about generating water, energy and food to support the settlement.


So there are some critical questions to be addressed before such a thing can be attempted. For this, just a 10 year time frame seems rather short. Having said that, I am certain that with advances in In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) techniques, a settlement is definitely possible in the longer time frame. I worked with a team of really talented individuals last year as part of the “Caltech Space Challenge” whose main task was to design a mission to one of the Martian moons. This was supposed to be a precursor to actually landing on Mars and even for this we were looking at a 2035 time frame.

 

Q. One thing that you would like to change in our Indian education  system to foster better research work.

I think the Indian education system gave me a lot of things that held me in good stead as I moved to the US. Our emphasis on mathematical learning definitely creates a very strong background to work as a scientist or an engineer. The thing that worries me is the dropping interest in pursuing science and engineering as a career. I think in many ways this stems from how science and math are taught at the school and early college levels in many places.

We need to have a more real-world, hands-on approach to teaching these subjects so students constantly get to experiment and also learn the context in which they're being taught various subjects. I was blessed to have a number of teachers who did that when I was going through school and college and I owe my long term interest in science to them.

Careers in engineering and science also need to be promoted as exciting and glamorous opportunities to create change, so that they don't lose out to other fields. It is encouraging to see an increase in scientific spending, especially in the space sector. It is equally encouraging to see ISRO making use of social media to publicize their missions. I always felt that they did some great work but never advertised it. All that looks like it's going to change, and that's a great sign for the future.

 

Author
Vasanth

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