The World's Lightest Satellite Was Invented by a Teenager

At the tender age of 18, Rifath Shaarook has already caught the attention of NASA. In May of 2017, he developed the world's lightest satellite device using a 3D printer. In June of 2017, he's watching it launch into space.

Rifath Shaarook with the Kalamsat 3D printed structure to be flown on CiS SR-4 NASA Wallops on June 22, 2017.

Inspired to Take Flight

Shaarook's device was the winner of the international Cubes in Space competition, a collaboration between education company idoodlelearning, the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, and NASA. The competition challenged students across the globe to develop a device that weighed no more than 64 grams—about the weight of an egg—and could fit into a 4-meter (13-foot) cube, along with an experiment that required the device to be flown to space.

Funded by the organization Space Kidz India, Shaarook's invention is small enough to hold in the palm of your hand, and got its competition-ready lightness thanks to 3D-printed carbon fiber. Although its weight was required by the competition rules, many of the satellite components were all his own. "We designed it completely from scratch," he told Business Standard. He says the main challenge wasn't designing the device itself, but coming up with the second part of the challenge: an experiment that used it in space.

A Four-Hour Tour

The implications of Shaarook's invention isn't your standard bottle rocket test. In collaboration with NASA scientists, the small cube will be launched into sub-orbital flight on a four-hour round trip. Once in microgravity, it will be online for for 12 minutes, when it will be doing what it was made to do. "It will have a new kind of on-board computer and eight indigenous built-in sensors to measure acceleration, rotation and the magnetosphere of the earth," Shaarook told Business Standard. He further explained to Times of India, "The main role of the satellite will be to demonstrate the performance of 3-D printed carbon fibre." Whether or not the launch is successful, Shaarook has already made history: his experiment is the first one by an Indian student to be flown by NASA.

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18-Year-Old Develops The World's Lightest Satellite

Written by Mike Epifani June 1, 2017

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