Students make space a little safer, win competition
Snagging your garden glove on the thorn of a rose bush may draw blood, but if an astronaut snags a glove on a sharp object while working outside of the spacecraft, it can be deadly. Consequently, NASA created a challenge to develop a device that could detect sharp edges and eliminate the risk. It must also be cost-effective, light weight, and easy to operate while wearing large, clumsy, astronaut suit gloves.
For about a year, a student team in the Illinois Space Society of the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have been working on a solution. They call their device, “MIDAS,” which stands for Micrometeoroid Impact Detection And Suppression. This past June, the team traveled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. There, the team’s device was tested by divers in the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Lab pool.
Team Advisor, Michael Lembeck said, “The team set the bar for future students in preparation and execution and, as a result, received positive feedback from the divers.”
Although, MIDAS passed the underwater test, the team also had to consider its effectiveness in the space environment. For example, would the Kapton tape used to cover the jagged area also adhere in a vacuum.
To verify the adhesiveness of Kapton tape in a vacuum, the team designed an adhesion test rig—a piston-like device. A piece of Kapton tape was attached to an aluminum sheet at the top of the cylinder, then placed into a thermal-vacuum chamber.
That’s was just one of the hurdles the team had to navigate in the year-long project. The final device is made up of 39 individual components.
Their work recently paid off, taking first place and the International Astronautical Federation Hans von Muldau Team Award for their paper and presentation of the Micrometeoroid Impact Detection and Suppression for International Space Station Extra-vehicular Activities.
The team included: Katie Carroll, project manager; Noah Henricks, safety lead; Harriet Hunt, detection lead; George Petrov, covering lead; and team members Zana Essmyer and David Gable. The faculty adviser was Michael Lembeck.