(L-R) Sitting: Rifath Shaarook, Srimathy Kesan (mentor); Standing: Gobinath, Yagna Sai, Mohammed Abdul Kashif and Tanishq Dwivedi. Their idea for KalamSat came over a bite of gulab jaamun
Image: P Ravikumar for Forbes India
On June 22, 2017, when US space agency Nasa’s Terrier Orion launched into space from Virginia, the rocket carried with it the world’s smallest and lightest satellite: KalamSat. Named after former president the late APJ Abdul Kalam, the 3.8-centimetre, cube-sized satellite weighing 64 grams was built by a seven-member team from Chennai-based Space Kidz India (SKI).
SmallSats and CubeSats are gaining popularity all over the world as they open up space exploration to institutions beyond well-funded government agencies and cash-rich private companies. “KalamSat will lead to more economical satellite launches because once the weight is reduced, the amount you need to pay to the rocket [for the satellite’s launch] will drastically decrease. Smaller satellites are also more eco-friendly,” says Rifath Shaarook, 19, the lead scientist at SKI, who is currently pursuing his undergraduate degree in physics.
Mentored by founder Srimathy Kesan, 43, SKI’s members—Tanishq Dwivedi (flight engineer, 21), Vinay Bharadwaj (structural engineer, 21), Yagna Sai (lead technologist, 21), Mohammed Abdul Kashif (lead engineer, 21) and Gobinath (biologist, 22)—are college students, like Rifath.
“They want to do something unique in life. They are extremely dedicated, with a never-give-up attitude,” says Srimathy about the youngsters, some of whom she handpicked as schoolchildren, and nurtured them to form her core team.
For Rifath and his friends who breathe and eat space research, the eureka moment to build KalamSat came over a bite of gulab jaamun at Srimathy’s home. While the team was confident about overcoming technological challenges, launching the satellite in space would still have been daunting for the bootstrapped firm, with costs breaching $50,000-80,000.
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(This story appears in the 11 May, 2018 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)