The world’s smallest and lightest satellite is going into orbit on June 21. Designed for NASA by an 18-year-old Indian teenager, Rifath Shaarook, this satellite merely weighs 64 grams! It was created via 3D printing technology using carbon fiber.
Apparently, it only looks like a stack of tiny computer chips sitting inside a cube. But it indeed is the world’s smallest and lightest satellite. The device will now go on a four-hour mission for a sub-orbital flight during which it will operate for around 12 minutes in a micro-gravity environment of space.
The satellite is named KalamSat, after India’s nuclear scientist and former President APJ Abdul Kalam. His project was selected in NASA’s ‘Cubes in Space’ challenge sponsored jointly by NASA and ‘I Doodle Learning’. His experiment was funded by an organization called ‘Space Kidz India’.
“We designed it completely from scratch,” says Shaarook. “It will have a new kind of onboard computer and eight indigenous built-in sensors to measure acceleration, rotation and the magnetosphere of the earth.”
A satellite is a moon, planet or machine that orbits a planet or star. Usually, the word “satellite” refers to a machine that is launched into space and moves around Earth or another body in space. Earth and the moon are examples of natural satellites.
There are thousands of artificial, or man-made, satellites orbiting the Earth, put into orbit for various reasons. Some take pictures of the planet that help meteorologists predict weather and track hurricanes. Some take pictures of other planets, the sun, black holes, dark matter or faraway galaxies.
Still, other satellites are used mainly for communications, such as beaming TV signals and phone calls around the world. A group of more than 20 satellites makes up the Global Positioning System, or GPS. If you have a GPS receiver, these satellites can help figure out your exact location.
The main purpose of KalamSat was to demonstrate the performance of 3D printed carbon fiber. 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), refers to processes used to create a three-dimensional object in which layers of material are formed under computer control to create an object. Objects can be of almost any shape or geometry and are produced using digital model data from a 3D model or another electronic data source such as an Additive Manufacturing File (AMF) file.
3D printing has many applications; in the automotive industry, robotics industry, firearms industry, medicine, architecture, custom art, and design. Its use in making a satellite is a first in the world. Use of this technology in creating 3D printed prosthetic limbs is especially noteworthy.
Shaarook belongs to a small town Pallapatti in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu and now works as a lead scientist at Chennai-based Space Kidz India.
At the tender age of 15, Rifath Shaarook also built a helium weather balloon as part of a nationwide competition for young scientists. He has a keen interest in space studies and will pursue his dreams further in the same field.