When Rifath Sharook heard about a NASA funded competition to blast home-built satellites in space, he had to think fast… and think small.

The satellite designed by Rifath and his team weighs little more than a tennis ball, but it’s already setting records. Not only is it the lightest satellite ever sent into space, weighing just 64 grammes, it’s also the first made by a 3D-printer.

Cubes in Space is a global competition open to schoolchildren aged 11-18 years old. This year’s task was to design an experiment that would go on a sub-orbital flight around the world.

The experiment had to fit into a 10cm2 cube - known as a CubeSat - provided by NASA, who then sent it into space aboard a rocket. The best 80 cube designs were chosen for the rocket launch, which took place on June 22nd.

The Kalamsat
Image: Cubes in Space

18-year-old Rifath’s team was supported by Space Kidz India. They created the 3D printed satellite using reinforced carbon fiber polymer. The main purpose, according to Shaarook, was to demonstrate the performance of 3D printed carbon fibre in space.

“This is the first time 3D printing technology has been used in space,” said Shaarook. “We have made history”

They named their satellite “KalamSat,” after India's former President, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.

The satellite also had a temperature and humidity sensor, a barometric pressure sensor, and a "Nano Geiger-Muller counter", to measure the radiation in space.

"We designed it completely from scratch," says Shaarook. The satellite, he says, has “a new kind of on-board computer and eight indigenous built-in sensors to measure acceleration, rotation and the magnetosphere of the earth."

The Cubes were launched into space from NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

Good things come in small packages

“CubeSats are part of a growing technology that’s transforming space exploration,” says David Pierce, senior programme executive for suborbital research at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“While CubeSats have historically been used as teaching tools and technology demonstrations, today’s CubeSats have the potential to conduct important space science investigations as well.”

In this instance, they have turned teenagers into space scientists.