The Micro-g NExT design competition is hosted by NASA and has undergraduate teams make designs for different space tools needed for the future Asteroid Retrieval Mission. Our team has proposed a design for a tool that anchors astronauts on asteroids as they take surface samples. Our team has had its design accepted by the Micro-g NExT committee and is now in the construction phase of the competition.
Construct the space anchor.
Go to Houston and test the anchor.
Anchor design approved by NASA
Project given a grant by NASA
Project given a grant by the Columbia College Student Council
Project given a grant by the Columbia Engineering Student Council
The obvious attraction of the Micro-G NExT project is certainly the test week at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This was what initially drew me to the project in September 2017, but what most people don’t initially look at is the year-long process as a whole. From picking a design challenge to drafting our proposal to eventually testing at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), it was an invaluable experience that taught our whole team the value of hard work and collaboration.
Up until we were selected to go to Johnson Space Center in December, the whole process felt very surreal. It still hadn’t hit for many of us that we were actually doing important work that would be considered seriously by NASA. However, when the decision came in, the nature of the whole process changed. Rather than design, we had to focus now on creation. A lot of us were freshmen, which meant we had to learn many different aspects of machining very quickly. The learning curve was steep, but with frequent meetings and countless hours in the MechE shop, we were able to get everything down.
The crux of our device, the spring-lock mechanism, was what really set our initial designs apart from the final product. Cutting zipties was one challenge but being able to retain and dispose of them properly, thereby not allowing them to become more space junk, was something else entirely. Part of this solution was the rubber lining along the bottom clamp of the head of the device, but the other was the spring-lock mechanism. This would lock the device into place once the clamps were closed, keeping the cut ziptie between the two head clamps, and could only be opened again by pressing a lever on the bottom of the mechanism. Other than the machining of the other parts, getting this to work was a huge focus of our project going into the second semester.
Our actual testing experience at the NBL was absolutely incredible. Being able to go past some of the more tourist-oriented parts of Johnson Space Center to really get into the meat of what happens there was a privilege. Even before the actual testing of the device, we were able to meet with several divers, researchers, and other NASA staff. They gave good feedback on the design of our device before and after testing and offered help and guidance along every step of the way. We had a Test Readiness Review (TRR) the first day we were there, during which we talked about how to operate the device and any safety hazards we could find. All of the NASA staff gave very constructive feedback and helped us make the modifications necessary to have a successful test the next day.
Micro-G NExT was an amazing experience, and one that we will all remember. There is a certain part of one’s engineering education that simply can’t be replicated in a classroom and being able to have that, while also doing valuable work for NASA, was an absolute privilege. For next year, I would like to see the Micro-G NExT team continue to pursue an invite to the NBL, and to allow more buffer time for machining issues. A big problem we faced was not allocating enough time for problem we’d run into during manufacturing, and this ended up making things kind of tight in the end. Being a part of this project was amazing, and I look forward to seeing what next year’s team will accomplish!
– David Alvarez
The Micro-G teams for 2016 and 2017 did amazing work and we hope to follow un their footsteps!
We’re extremely excited to introduce this year’s Micro-G team!
Zip ties are commonly used on payloads and hardware outside of the International Space Station (ISS). Often times they need to be removed during a spacewalk, or Extravehicular Activity (EVA), to complete a maintenance task or another EVA objective. These zip ties could be anywhere on the payload, including smaller spaces that are hard to reach. Since this occurs in microgravity, the zip tie needs to be captured once removed to keep it from floating away and potentially causing damage to the ISS or another piece of hardware.
Our mission is to design and manufacture a novel zip-tie cutting and retention device for use during an EVA. We dub our design: The Lion Cutter.
The mission co-leads are Tejit Pabari (SEAS ‘21) and Christopher Fryer (SEAS ‘19). The team members are: Yuanxia Lee (CC ‘18), Garrett Harrison (SEAS ‘21), Megan Noga (SEAS ‘20), Henrique Monteiro (SEAS ‘21), Mitchell Miya (SEAS ‘21), David Alvarez (SEAS ‘21)
We spent weeks brainstorming designs and drawing rough schematics of our ideal device design, and submitted our finished proposal to NASA. Here are some preliminary CAD drawings that we included in our proposal:
In December we received the amazing news that our proposal had been accepted!
We will now join 21 other undergraduate teams at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab in the spring!
We are modifying our design to include a spring-locking mechanism, which will keep the device closed during zip-tie retention without needing for the astronaut to continually hold onto the device. Here is a preliminary CAD drawing of said modification:
We hope to begin manufacturing soon.
-Chris and the entire Micro-G team
This is an exciting time for the Micro-g team. We’ve been hard at work over the past couple of weeks, planning and running our outreach events, making design improvements, and even prototyping!
A few weeks ago, we met our advisor from NASA (via web video), who will be helping us through the final stages of our product development and testing. Before the meeting, our mission co-leads 3D-printed the first prototype of the sample tube in our device.
We were even able to take a photo of the full team, thanks to a little help from web video!
Lately, our design improvements have been focused on optimizing the turbine driving the drill using a new “planetary gear” system. Check out one of our sketches below:
We’ve also begun prototyping the Iris Mechanism at the bottom of our drill. The mechanism contains many small parts, so printing it was a little tricky. However, our second attempt looks much more promising.
We’re going to continue to improve our design, and soon we’ll start machining our drill!
￼￼ Our team has been having an incredible amount of fun planning and running our outreach events over the past few weeks. We’ve been spending a lot of time at various kids’ science events, teaching them about space technology and our project, and encouraging them to go into STEM fields so they can also contribute to our exploration of the final frontier! Here are some of the highlights from our outreach events at the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, Liberty Science Center, and Manhattanville Community Center.
On Friday, February 24, we ran a workshop at the Intrepid’s Kids’ Week.
We talked to them about parachutes—how they work, how they’re made, and their role in bringing astronauts back to Earth safely. Then, we guided them through the process of making their own parachutes, and everyone had a blast!
￼￼ ￼￼￼ On Saturday, February 25, some brave souls among us woke up at the crack of dawn to make the trek to Liberty Science Center in New Jersey. They explained our project to the kids, and demonstrated basic principles of energy by simulating asteroids hitting planets and making craters. ￼￼￼
It got a little messy, but everyone loved it!
Finally, this past Friday, March 4, we ran our first of four workshops at Manhattanville Community Center. The parachute activity was repeated to great success.
￼￼ Stay tuned for more updates!
If you’ve followed CSI news, you’ll know that last year’s Micro-G team killed it. The team entered NASA’s design challenge to build a near-Earth asteroid anchoring device, and after months of work produced the “Lion Claw”, which passed with flying colors during testing at NASA’s NBL.
We’re very excited to introduce this year’s Micro-G team! We’ve already been hard at work on our mission since September; in fact, we’ve been working so hard that news updates have taken a backseat to our constant efforts to improve our design. But not to fear! Without further ado, we’d like to present Micro-G NExT 2017!
Our logo, designed by Maggie Fei
It was September, and this year’s Micro-G team clearly had a lot to live up to. Since Columbia’s previous team had already conquered the asteroid anchoring device challenge, we chose to enter a different Micro-G mission: the Subsurface Sampling Device challenge.
NASA is currently working on systems to take humans beyond Low Earth Orbit to explore the solar system. Some of the destinations of interest are celestial bodies with milligravity to microgravity.
A sample type of interest to scientists is a subsurface sample. Subsurface samples can showcase the history of the body and describe its internal structure.
Our mission: To design and manufacture a device that enables an astronaut to obtain a subsurface sample (core sample) in microgravity.
Our mission is co-led by Asad Saleem (SEAS ’20) and Mikhail Karasev (SEAS ’20).
The team members are:
Alex Kim (SEAS ’20), Ben Kepecs (CC ’20), Francesco Zampetti (SEAS ’18), Karina Yeh (SEAS ’20), Kevin Le (SEAS ’20), and Robert Kydd (SEAS ’18).
Our first step was to draft and submit a design proposal to NASA. We spent several weeks brainstorming drill designs, filling chalkboards with designs, ideas, measurements, and the inevitable modifications.
Complicating our design were the criteria that the device had to be able to drill around a cylindrical core sample of either sandstone or sand, and also somehow seal at the end to prevent the sample from falling out. We took some inspiration from already extant ice-corers, which are designed to drill down into polar ice to collect core samples. We decided that a pneumatically powered device was our best bet to drill through sandstone, and discovered an interesting mechanism that we could use to close the end of the collection tube, an Iris Mechanism. After a lot of work, we finished the first draft of our design and submitted our proposal. Check out the animation below showing how our device works, using a model imported from our CAD assembly.
Finally, in December, we received some great news: our proposal had been accepted!
This meant that we would now actually manufacture our device and test it at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas, alongside teams from 29 other universities.
Now, we’re putting the final touches on our design, and we hope to start manufacturing it soon.
Some of our latest CAD models.
Left - the version for sandstone collection; right - the sample tube; below - the model for sand collection.
We are also coordinating our outreach activities at Liberty Science Center, the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, and various schools throughout New York City. We are very excited about these events and the progress that we have made, and we hope that you continue to follow us in our mission!
-Ben and the entire Micro-G team
Well, if you follow us on social media you’ll know that we went to Houston last week to test our asteroid anchor. Without further ado, here’s our mission debrief:
We had started this process in December with our initial concept, but quickly realized that our design was impossible to manufacture. Starting anew, we had another design and prototype by March - only to see that it had failed to hold the 10 lbs of force during testing.
Into this week were betting on a new design and scrambled to manufacture and test it. Kristina and Tamás, our team leads, had many a sleepless night over the anchor. We had only tested the anchor underwater a few times before making the trip to Houston. Although the anchor had worked in our underwater test, we were still understandbly nervous about the anchor - would it work in the NBL? would it pass NASA’s stringent safety inspection?
But to our delight, our anchor did pass - in all respects. On our first day in Houston, we had our Technical Readiness Review, in which we proved to NASA specialists that our tool was safe for use in the NBL. After some filing of sharp edges and softening wire tips, we were good to go.
The second day in Houston was our test day; we were scheduled for a 9:10 a.m. test, though in actuality we started ten minutes later. Jordi was TC (Test Controller), and directed the divers in realtime on how to operate the tool. I also livestreamed the event on our Facebook page; it’ll also be on YouTube soon.
We held at least 30 lbs of force, even though NASA only required us to hold 10 lbs of force. The divers themselves even said that this was one of the strongest designs there. With the anchor only half-deployed (only the bottom plates deployed), we held the requisite 10 lbs of force. Suffice to say, we’re pleased with how well testing turned out!
We also won the social media prize, and got a special tour of Building 9, which is the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. We touched the actual ISS mockups that astronauts used to train!
First of all, thank you to everyone who contributed to this mission. Kristina and Tamás were amazing team leads, both of whom entirely determined the success of the project, and deserve every accolade. Brian also is a standout with SolidWorks, and Jordi is our finance master - without which we wouldn’t have had the money to make this trip possible.
Meanwhile, check out our vlog series on YouTube to get a sense of what our trip was like.
Finally, we hope to continue the Micro-g NExT program next year. We had a blast doing it, and Kristina and Tamás will be able to stay on as advisors for future participants from Columbia.
-Julia, Micro-g Logistics/Everything
It’s an exciting week for us on the micro-g team here at csi! We’ll be going to Houston next week to test the LionClaw, our design for a microgravity anchor. The anchor would theoretically be used by spacecraft visiting near-Earth asteroids, which are essentially asteroids closer to us than Mars is (roughly 50 million miles or less; space scales are weird). Because these asteroids are so small, the amount of gravity we would experience on them would be negligible, so we need an anchor to keep our astronauts on its surface.
NASA has generously provided us and other undergraduate teams the opportunity
to test our anchor at the National Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL). The NBL is a
giant pool where astronauts run simulations or test equipment to mimic the
weightlessness experienced in space and on asteroids! We’re extremely excited
to test our design there!
We’ll be keeping you updated on our progress in Houston as we test the design, but for now, we’ll be working hard in Columbia’s excellent machine shop and makerspace. If you’re in the area, feel free to come and check out our design if you have any questions or would like to see it for yourself! Columbia has kindly provided the resources that have made this design possible, so it is the least we can do in return to the Columbia community.
Look out for Kristina, Tamas, or Brian (pictured below).
Redesigns are underway on our asteroid anchor. Tomorrow (April 8), we will be manufacturing our design changes in the Mechanical Engineering Shop. The Columbia Daily Spectator will also film a behind-the-scenes video of our manufacturing process. Stop by at 1 p.m. with your CSI shirt to appear in our video!
It’s 6:55 p.m. (EST) and we have submitted our Technical Equipment Data Package (TEDP) to NASA. It’s 40 pages long and written with lots of love from everyone on the team.
Although submitting the TEDP was a great success, we do have some unfortunate news: our asteroid anchor design doesn’t quite work. We have tested the design and found that the anchor does not withstand the full 10 lbs of force required by the NASA design rules. We’re working on redesigning the anchor, but with only about 40 days before we head to Houston, we don’t have much time for major design changes. It’s not a huge issue though - we’re relatively certain that our mechanical reasoning is solid; we just need more surface area to interact with the regolith.
Last few weeks have been super manufacturing-intense! Coming off of spring break, we have most of our body and the inside mechanism ready. We have tested and scrapped some parts and designed and made new ones! Mistakes in machining are inevitable, so we had to remake the plates and the cone, which we finished last week. Next big milestone is the TEDP report due next week!
We have submitted our preliminary design to NASA. The final design is an assembly of around 9 parts: the cone, shaft, 5 plates, piston, and blocking bar. The cone piece that is the first part to make direct contact with the surface is threaded for ease of penetration. The shaft serves as the housing for the piston and the plates attached by individual hinges. A person pushing on the piston activates the plate assembly and they slide out of their holes and grip the m_barnes. Our design underwent many changes during the brainstorming procedure. Our inspirations were river anchors, screwpile drills, and the fractal design used on the Rosetta comet.
Kristina, Co-Head of Micro-G Team