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The Tale of Two Satellites: Kalamsat and TerreStar-1

In the realm of space exploration and technology, size often matters. Whether it’s the gargantuan rockets that propel astronauts into orbit or the tiny satellites that gather crucial data, size plays a pivotal role in the success of a mission. However, two satellites defy the norms and stand as remarkable examples of what can be achieved at both ends of the size spectrum: Kalamsat, the world’s smallest satellite, and TerreStar-1, the largest commercial satellite ever built.

Kalamsat: The Pinnacle of Youth Innovation and Technology

The Genesis of Kalamsat

Kalamsat vs. Terrestar / Denis Giffeler

Kalamsat is not just another satellite; it’s a symbol of youthful ingenuity and a testament to what can be achieved when young minds are given the right platform. The satellite was designed by Rifath Sharook, an 18-year-old student from Tamil Nadu, India. His design won a competition called “Cubes in Space,” hosted by an organization named I Doodle Learning and sponsored by NASA and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. The competition’s primary challenge was to design an experiment that would fit into a four-meter cube and weigh no more than 64 grams.

The Technology Behind Kalamsat

What sets Kalamsat apart from other satellites is its groundbreaking technology. It’s the world’s first 3D-printed satellite, a feat that has opened new avenues in the field of space exploration. The satellite is equipped with a new kind of onboard computer and eight indigenous built-in sensors. These sensors are designed to measure various parameters like acceleration, rotation, and Earth’s magnetosphere.

Key Facts and Figures

  • Weight: 64 grams
  • Launch Date: June 22, 2017
  • Cost: Part of a student competition, so cost was minimal
  • Mission Duration: 4-hour sub-orbital mission
  • Sensors: Eight indigenous built-in sensors

The Mission and Objectives

Kalamsat was launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and embarked on a 4-hour sub-orbital mission. During its brief journey, the satellite spent about 12 minutes in a micro-gravity environment. One of the primary objectives was to test the durability of its extremely light casing, made from 3D-printed reinforced carbon fiber polymer. The mission aimed to demonstrate the performance of 3D-printed carbon fiber in space. The success of this could lead to the development of similar lightweight and cost-effective payloads for future NASA missions.

A Milestone for India and the World

The launch of Kalamsat was a significant milestone not just for India but for the global scientific community. The satellite was chosen at an international competition among 80 models submitted by young contestants from 57 countries. It was launched by a NASA sounding rocket from the Wallops Island facility and studied radiation levels during its brief flight.

The Legacy and Future Prospects

Kalamsat has set a precedent for future space missions, proving that size and budget are not the only determinants of success. It has shown that with innovative thinking and the right use of technology, even a small team of students can make a significant contribution to the field of space science. The satellite has received several awards and recognitions, further solidifying its status as a marvel of modern engineering.

TerreStar-1: The Heavyweight Titan


On the other end of the spectrum, we have TerreStar-1, the largest commercial satellite ever built. Launched on July 1, 2009, this behemoth weighs an astounding 15,233 pounds (6,910 kg). Unlike Kalamsat, which was a student-led initiative, TerreStar-1 was a commercial venture aimed at revolutionizing telecommunications.

Technological Marvel

TerreStar-1 was equipped with a 60-foot (18-meter) antenna, the largest of its kind for commercial use. This massive antenna allowed for unprecedented data transmission capabilities, making it a game-changer in the field of satellite communications. The satellite was designed to provide mobile voice and data communications over North America, bridging gaps in coverage and offering enhanced reliability.

Key Facts and Figures

  • Weight: 15,233 pounds (6,910 kg)
  • Launch Date: July 1, 2009
  • Cost: Estimated at around $300 million
  • Antenna Size: 60-foot (18-meter) antenna

Mission Challenges

The sheer size and weight of TerreStar-1 presented unique challenges, especially in terms of launch and deployment. Specialized rockets were required to propel this massive satellite into its geostationary orbit. Despite these challenges, the satellite was successfully launched and has been operational, providing critical services and setting new standards in satellite communications.

Contrasting Legacies

While Kalamsat and TerreStar-1 may seem worlds apart, they share a common thread: innovation. Kalamsat represents the potential of young minds and new technologies like 3D printing, proving that even small, low-cost projects can make significant contributions to science. On the other hand, TerreStar-1 embodies the pinnacle of commercial engineering and serves as a testament to what can be achieved with sufficient resources and expertise.


The stories of Kalamsat and TerreStar-1 serve as inspiring examples of human ingenuity and the limitless possibilities of space technology. Whether it’s an 18-year-old student in Tamil Nadu using 3D printing to revolutionize satellite construction or a team of seasoned engineers building a commercial behemoth, these satellites prove that in the realm of space exploration, size is but a number. What truly matters is the spirit of innovation and the audacity to dream big, regardless of how small or large those dreams may be.