Among the 20 satellites launched on the maiden flight of the Long March 6 rocket on Sept 20 was a nano-satellite designed, developed and controlled independently by college students.
The Lilac 2, weighing 12 kilograms, can collect information about the location and speed of ships and airplanes, and its infrared camera can monitor extreme weather and forest fires.
The multidisciplinary project required a team of 40 undergraduates, postgraduates and doctoral students from eight fields, including aeronautics, mechanics and computing.
Their average age is 24; the youngest is 20.
Wei Mingchuan, 25, a first-year doctoral student at the School of Aeronautics, is the chief designer for the project.
After he entered the Harbin Institute of Technology in 2009, he joined the Wireless Club, which helped his college become recognized for its small satellites.
In December 2009, when the nation’s first amateur radio communication satellite was launched, Wei decided to make a small satellite himself.
“When I told my old classmates the idea, they all thought I was dreaming, but fortunately, the seemingly impractical idea received support from my teachers,” said Wei. “I also met several like-minded friends who became the backbone of the team.”
In November 2010, the Harbin Institute of Technology decided to join in an international cooperative program about small satellites.
“We can get more opportunities to exchange experiences with the top aeronautics schools and institutes through international cooperation,” said Cao Xibin, dean of the School of Aeronautics at Harbin.
“We can also explore the new mode of talent development if we allow students to make satellites by themselves.”
So in January, 2012, a team of college students was founded to design and develop small satellites.
Harbin Institute of Technology has provided 5 million yuan ($780,000) for the project over the past five years.
Hu Chaoran, 23, a senior at the School of Electronics and Information Engineering, saw the launch.
“In the past few years, we encountered numerous difficulties, but the power from our team gave me lots of confidence,” Hu said.