ISS team creates asteroid rock-chipping tool as part of Micro-g NeXT Challenge
The hand-held, mechanically-operated Modular Asteroid Chip Sampler (MACS) Tool uses kinetic energy from a spring to drive a chisel into the surface of rock encountered on an asteroid. The tool is the Illinois team’s entry in the National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment (Micro-g NExT) Design Challenge.
ISS is one of 25 university teams across the country that has advanced to the competition’s testing phase. Teams will be spending the next few months building prototypes. Testing will take place in June in Houston at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), a 40-foot deep pool where astronauts train for spacewalks.
Project Leader Zachary Fester said the team began its work last October.
“The first few meetings were dedicated to brainstorming different design concepts, which was essentially a lot of ideas and chalkboard sketches,” Fester said. “We took the approach of breaking a ‘rock chip sampler’ into separate but interdependent functions, and focused on developing those concepts incrementally. There were a lot of design challenges to overcome, with the biggest factor being a tight volume constraint and weight constraint.
“One of the main challenges was knowing when to build prototype components and finding the right resources and materials. Our tool consists of a lot of 3D printed components, so we have to validate some of our design features to make sure we weren't getting ahead of ourselves.”
The team made use of four Makerbot 3D printers recently acquired by Aerospace Engineering (AE) at Illinois. “These have been very useful for our rapid prototyping needs and for many other organizations and projects,” Fester said. “For metals and larger components, we have utilized other campus resources like machine shops and prototyping labs.”
“Overall, we are very happy with how we've managed to turn chalkboard drawings into an EVA tool prototype!”
In addition to Fester, a senior, ISS team members are:
- AE sophomore Paul DeTrempe, Design Lead
- AE senior Sarosh Hussain, Technical Writing Specialist
- AE freshman Emilio Garcia, Educational Outreach Specialist
- AE freshman David Salmi, Educational Outreach Specialist
- AE Assistant Prof. Grace Gao, Faculty Advisor
- Dr. Jessica McLaughlin, NASA Engineer and Industry Mentor.
Design teams were encouraged to engage the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics community by creating social media accounts with the hashtag #MicrogNExT. The Illinois team’s accounts are:
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/illinoismicrog
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/illinoismicrog
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/illinoismicrog
- Website: www.illinoismicrog.weebly.com
The tools designed for Micro-g NExT address an authentic, current space exploration problem: asteroid sample collection for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, in which humans will visit a portion of an asteroid that will be brought into lunar orbit. Upon successful testing, these student-designed tools have the possibility of being used by the astronauts for future training as NASA prepares for the mission.