Satellites are getting smaller and smaller, and 3D printing has a lot to do with that, as we’ve seen from the prevalence of 3D printed CubeSats. In further evidence that 3D printing is democratizing science as well as creation, the smallest satellite to be launched into space comes not from a research institution or government agency, but from an 18-year-old boy in Tamil Nadu, India.
Rifath Sharook is the winner of the Cubes in Space competition, a NASA-supported contest put on by educational organization idoodlelearning. When his KalamSat satellite is launched by NASA on June 21, it will not only be the smallest satellite to be sent into space so far, it will also be the first designed by a student from India. The tiny 3D printed cube, weighing in at 64 grams, is lighter than a smartphone.
“We designed it completely from scratch,” said Sharook. “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-metre cube weighing 64 grammes.”
That’s a lot to fit into a tiny cube, which will operate for 12 minutes in a microgravity environment, during a suborbital flight that will last about 240 minutes after launch. The main goal of the experiment, according to Sharook, is to see how 3D printed carbon fiber performs in outer space. The satellite was 3D printed from carbon fiber-reinforced polymer sourced both locally and internationally.
Sharook’s project was funded by Space Kidz India, an organization dedicated to educating young people in science and technology and guiding them toward careers in the field. The 18-year-old is fascinated by science and space in particular, and named his satellite after nuclear scientist and former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam. Sharook is also a member of the NASA Kids’ Club, and must be feeling as though he’s living a dream come true now that his own work has been selected to be sent into space.
This isn’t the first time one of Sharook’s projects has left the Earth, however. In 2015, he launched a 1,200g helium weather balloon into the atmosphere, but creating a satellite that will be launched by NASA is something else altogether. It’s remarkable how 3D printing has put space exploration into the hands of regular citizens – many of them high school or college students. More satellites are going into space than ever before, and a growing number of them were created not by NASA but by citizen scientists.
NASA, it seems, is thrilled by the increasing participation of citizens in space research. Challenges like this one, as well as programs like the CubeSat Launch Initiative, invite anyone who’s interested to build small satellites for potential launch. The prospect of working with a major national space agency is an attractive one for young people in particular, drawing more of them towards science and technology. Space, which not long ago seemed faraway and inaccessible to many kids, is now within reach. Students like Sharook are finding challenges like this one to be entryways to further study of space, 3D printing, or both (it’s hard to separate the two, these days), and the next generation of scientists emerges. Discuss in the 3D Printed Satellite forum at 3DPB.com.[Source: Times of India]
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