Satellites are often thought of as being behemoths made of steel and solar panels, but an 18 year old Indian student named Rifath Shaarook has 3D printed a satellite that fits in the palm of your hand. The ultra-light cubesat has a mass of just 64 grams and takes up approximately 4 cubic centimeters.
The satellite, called KalamSat with a mass of 64 paperclips that fits in the palm of your hand will soon be flying into space to test specific properties of the Earth atmosphere. It has 8 built in sensors to measure factors such as acceleration, rotation, and various properties of the Magnetosphere during its 240 minute mission from the NASA facility at Wallop Island, Virginia.
Why is the KalamSat Important?
Cube satellites have become a vital area of research over the last few years, and this cubesat is flying into space on June 21st, 2017 to test the viability of 3D printed carbon fiber in microgravity. Because transit into space is measured based on mass, This cubesat stands poised to reduce the cost of space travel further by allowing more and cheaper payloads to make the trip.
Cost reduction is but one of the potential benefits of this satellite, however. Understanding the properties of the Magnetosphere and other atmospheric influences will be vital to perfecting atmosphere escape methods and tools. The total mission time for
What are the long term impacts of this technology?
If the test is successful, it may open up a new area of satellite construction for manufacturers around the world. The satellite is not only constructed of carbon fiber, however. It is constructed of a carbon fiber reinforced polymer. The specific polymer used to build it is currently unknown.
By using lightweight polymers and reinforcing them with carbon fiber, it is possible to create even smaller and lighter satellites with the appropriate manufacturing processes and components.
Who would a successful test affect?
The effects of this satellite test being successful will reach manufacturers all over the globe as well as scientists who require satellite data for research and civilian life that relies on satellite information for weather and other daily needs.
Other industries that may feel the impacts of a successful test of this satellite are space flight and reentry vehicle producers. As more is known about the Atmosphere, it may become feasible to produce more efficient launch, thermal protection, and orbital sustainment products.
Power-to-weight ratio has long been a limiting factor in space exploration. Advancements made in areas such as computing, 3D printing, and materials science have been key to driving the second space revolution. This satellite represents a culmination of many of those advancements and seeks to push our ability to understand and know our surroundings even further than we knew before.
If testing of this satellite is successful, not only will a new method of satellite manufacturing have a proven base, we will also gain valuable insight into the workings of the Magnetosphere and other atmospheric factors that have seen limited study due to cost of experimentation.
Rifath Shaarook and his team have pushed our understanding of satellite production capabilities forward with the help of the Cubes in Space and idoodlelearning programs as well as the funding organization, Space Kidz India. If the testing on June 21st goes well, those behemoths of steel and solar panels may evolve into a standard of tiny, carbon fiber reinforced polymer structures with micro solar panels or collapsible solar panels.