The little factory that could, part two


By Sharon St Joan

To read part one first, click here.

Four bids had been submitted. One of the bids was from a company that had been around for 90 years and was known as one of the world’s finest engineering companies.

Another was a company based in Gujarat that had a fantastic reputation and specialized in building small aircraft. Also submitting a bid was the same company that had just failed to complete the job on time and had missed the deadline by many months. And then there was Aspick, the small unknown company, started just the year before.

The space agency was legally obligated to award the contract to the lowest bidder – because all the bidding companies had been pre-qualified.

The bids were opened one by one. Aspick’s was opened first and read out. Dr. Krishna recalls that he “put on a poker face” — not wanting to look too amazed or surprised.

When his bid was read out, the whole room turned around and looked at him. His bid was only a small fraction of the other bids. Amazingly, the unknown company, Aspick, had just won the contract to build India’s first space communication antenna.

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Even Dr. Krishna was a little dumbfounded at this outcome. He went home and spent several hours re-doing all the calculations to be sure he had everything right and hadn’t made any mistakes. There were no computers in those days.

The space agency may have had second thoughts too. The next morning he received a telegram asking him to reconfirm that he actually could meet all the requirements of the project. He replied that yes, he definitely could.

The antenna was meant to be finished in thirteen weeks. During that time Colonel N. Pant, the Director of the Space Applications Center in Ahmedabad, practically lived in Dr. Krishna’s factory. The purpose of his job was to put scientific technology to work for the common man. A number of the drawings were modified, yet even with all the changes, Aspick still managed to deliver the perfect, finished antenna in fourteen weeks.

When assembled, the antenna was 33 feet across, with 64 panels and one center panel. It was disassembled and sent off in three government trucks to Delhi. Packing it took a long time since each panel had to be packed separately with shock absorbing material.

The communications satellite program in India was a huge success. 600 villages all over India had TV sets connected to small dish antenna pointed towards ATS-5. The information that was picked up related to monsoons, market conditions, and when to harvest – the kind of practical knowledge that was immensely helpful to small farmers and villagers; it aided in the planting of crops and school education.


In other areas of his life, Dr. Krishna has applied the same level of positive intention. As the Vice-Chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India, and a lifelong advocate for animals, he has contributed to India having the world’s most enlightened system of animal welfare laws. From his days as a young man, when he, along with his parents, Usha and Captain Sundaram, became the founders of the first and largest of the modern Indian animal shelters, Blue Cross of India – following in their footsteps, he has spent his life dedicated to the well-being of animals.

In 1973, when Aspick began, on the property at the Guindy Industrial Park, in Chennai, Dr. Krishna soon noticed three or four street dogs living in the area. He invited them in, fed them, and made sure that all his workers welcomed them warmly. After a rescue at the Chennai airport, the numbers of dogs at the factory grew to around twenty. Some of the dogs went on to live at home with him and his wife, Dr. Nanditha Krishna; some found other homes or stayed on at the factory. Now there are seven dogs living at Aspick – all contributing to the peaceful, yet industrious atmosphere – possibly the only factory anywhere with welders’ torches lighting up the air, palm trees waving gently just over the factory walls, and a line of dogs stretched out happily in the shade.

© 2015, Sharon St Joan

Top photo: Courtesy of Aspick Engineering


Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Dr. Chinny Krishna.


Third photo: Sharon St Joan / A puppy with a young volunteer at Blue Cross of India.



The little factory that could, part one


By Sharon St Joan

In 1960, NASA had begun to develop new communications satellites. In 1969, they launched the ATS 5, and made its use available to several nations. First, in a stationary orbit over Africa, it was used by a number of African nations for research purposes. Next was to be India’s turn, for one year, and the satellite would be in orbit over India in communication with an antenna on the ground known as the Delhi earth station.

The project was named the Satellite Instruction Television Experiment. Arthur C. Clarke, the renowned science fiction writer and futurist, called it “the greatest communication experiment in history.” In a bold new venture, it would reach rural Indian villages that had little access to modern education and information.

In order to seize this opportunity, India needed to build a ground antenna that could communicate with the satellite. The contract to make the antenna had been given to the Electronics Corporation of India in Hyderabad – which, unfortunately, had not been able to fulfill their commitment.

This left the Indian government scrambling at the last minute to find another company that could deliver the antenna – a correct antenna that could do the job – on time. The problem that ECI had was that it couldn’t achieve the required accuracy for the surface panels. The panels needed to have an absolutely smooth surface, to a tolerance of one fortieth of an inch.

When it became clear that the ECI was many months late, the Indian Department of Space started to lose patience. They placed an ad asking for bids for the project. A young Dr. Chinny Krishna had started his company, Aspick Engineering, just one year before, in 1973. It was a brand new company and still quite small. He had sold his motorcycle to help with the funding needed to start Aspick.


Having attended AC Tech Engineering College, Chennai, and then Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Dr. Krishna returned to India in 1972, when he joined the faculty of IIT Chennai to teach while preparing to start his company, which would design and manufacture special purpose machinery out of steel and other metals.

Today, forty years later, Aspick Engineering is one of the most outstanding and highly successful companies of its kind, executing special orders for customers throughout India and around the world.

At that time, in 1974, when Dr. Krishna placed a bid for the chance to built the antenna for the NASA communications satellite, hardly anyone had ever heard of Aspick Engineering.

The antenna was to receive signals from the satellite which was in geo-synchronous orbit. This meant that the antenna, which was approximately 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) above the earth, would move at such a speed that, to an observer on the ground, it would appear to be stationary. The satellite would complete one orbit around the earth in precisely one sidereal day intentionally matching the earth’s rotation period of 23 hours 56 minutes and 4.9 seconds.  However, there would be small movements of a fraction of a degree of drift of the satellite and the antenna would have to continuously make small changes in its orientation to track the satellite precisely.

There would be 65 panels, made of hand-treated aluminum, and the final alignment could only be made by adjusting it manually. Around a dozen people at Aspick eventually worked on it.


Aspick sent in their bid to the Department of Space, which sent a team to Chennai in south India to visit Aspick to pre-qualify them. The team were especially careful in their appraisal because they had just been let down by the Hyderabad company after so many months of expectation. Dr. Krishna gave the team a tour of the factory and the offices. He felt entirely confidant that Aspick had the ability to meet all the precise qualifications for the antenna. The team were suitably impressed, and they pre-qualified Aspick.

The opening of the bids for the contract to build the antenna took place at the Shastri Bhavan Offices of the Department of Space. As was his habit, Dr. Krishna sat in the back of the room. He’d always done that, including throughout his school days.

To be continued in part two


Top photo: Courtesy of Aspick Engineering / The satellite antenna.


Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Dr. Chinny Krishna


Third photo: Courtesy of Aspick Engineering / Other machinery manufactured by Aspick.