In recent years, Indian teenagers have been making great strides in the fields of STEM- science, technology, engineering and Maths. Their innovative accomplishments have brought them laurels not only on the Indian stage, but also on the international platform.
Meet Rifath Sharook, an 18-year-old boy, from Tamil Nadu’s Pallapatti town, who has managed to build what is estimated to be the world’s lightest satellite! So compelling is Rifath’s creation that it has even bagged NASA’s attention. NASA plans to launch Rifath’s satellite into the sub-orbit from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on June 21.
It all began when Rifath decided to participate in the ‘Cubes in Space’ competition, held by education company I Doodle Learning, and supported by NASA and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. The competition required participants to design a device that could fit into a 4-metre cube, while weighing exactly 64 grams and that could withstand the impact of being launched into space.
Since the satellite had to weigh only 64 grams- lighter than the lightest of smartphones- the main challenge before Rifath was to find the perfect, appropriate material that was lightweight as well as space-worthy. After studying the intricacies of cube satellites from across the world, Rifath zeroed in on carbon fibre as the material ideal for his satellite.
The final product has been constructed with 3D printed carbon fibre, and weighed in at exactly 64 grams, thus ensuring that Rifath was the global winner of the competition to develop the world’s lightest satellite.
Rifath has named his satellite ‘KalamSat’, in honour of Abdul Kalam, the father of the Indian space program. NASA will launch the satellite into space in a sub-orbital flight. After launch the mission span will be 240 minutes. During its space odyssey, the tiny satellite will operate for 12 minutes in the micro-gravity environment of space.
The satellite is equipped with a new kind of on-board computer and eight indigenous built-in sensors that will measure acceleration, rotation and the magnetosphere of the earth. The main purpose of the experiment is to take new technology into space, as also to understand the performance of 3D printed carbon fibre in space.
Rifath’s invention was funded by Chennai-based Space Kidz India, an organisation dedicated to promoting science and education among Indian children and teenagers. Rifath works as lead scientist at the organization.
This is not the first time that Rifath has ventured into the world of inventing. At the age of 15, he had developed a helium weather balloon for a nation-wide contest for budding scientists.