Indian teenager 3D prints “world’s lightest satellite” to launch on NASA rocket

Indian teenager Rifath Sharook has designed the “world’s lightest satellite” using a 3D printed carbon fiber reinforced polymer.

The satellite, which weighs just 64 grams, is expected to launch on a sounding rocket from NASA’s Wallops Island facility, Virginia in June. Sharook has named the 4 cm device the ‘Kalam Sat’ in reference to former Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

18 year-old, Rifath Sharook is from the small town of Pallapatti in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and designed the satellite for a competition.

Rifath Sharook with the Kalam Sat. Photo via Cubes in Space.
Rifath Sharook with the Kalam Sat. Photo via Cubes in Space.

Proof of 3D printing performance

Speaking to The Times of India, Sharook explains “the main role of the satellite will be to demonstrate the performance of 3-D printed carbon fibre.” The satellite will be launched on a sub-orbital research flight and Sharooks describes its design and purpose,

We designed it completely from scratch. 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. The main challenge was to design an experiment to be flown to space which would fit into a four centimetre cube weighing 64 grams

Sharook’s design was 3D printed with carbon fibre reinforced polymer and a group of US students have similarly showcased the performance of such material by 3D printing a rocket engine using Markforged’s carbon fibre infused nylon material.

Rafith Sharook, left, and his Certificate of Achievement. Photo via Cubes in Space.
Rafith Sharook, left, and his Certificate of Achievement from Cubes in Space. Photo via Cubes in Space.

Space design competition

The design was selected through the ‘Cubes in Space’ competition set up by NASA and global education company, idoodlelearning. Sharook’s design clearly impressed the judges and he states his team of fellow students “did a lot of research on different cube satellites all over the world and found ours was the lightest.”

Several companies are developing satellites with 3D printing and Polish company SatRevolution is planning to build a specialist production facility in Poland to 3D print cubesats. While NASA has used 3D printing to develop a small “origami-inspired robot” for future space exploration missions.

Sharook’s project was funded by educational organization, Space Kidz India.

The 3D Printing Industry Awards are taking place this month in London and there is still time to place your votes to decide the winners

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Featured image shows the Kalam Sat. 

Update: Readers have pointed out that the Kalam sat may not be the lightest satellite as claimed and instead the lightest ‘cube satellite’. Zachary Manchester, a student from Cornell University designed the Kicksat satellite which weighs just 5 grams.