3D Printing in Space Challenges Young Innovators to “Think Outside the Box”

In the design of an item or tool astronauts living and working on the International Space Station could use to complete a number of different tasks 

First 3D printer, Portal, to be tested onboard the International Space Station. Credits: Made In Space
First 3D printer, Portal, to be tested onboard the International Space Station.
Credits: Made In Space

Space news (Space Education Programs: Future Engineers; 3D Printing in Space Challenges, “Think Outside the Box” challenge) – design an item that assembles, telescopes, hinges, accordions, grows, or expands to become larger than the printing bounds of the AMF 3D printer on the International Space Station – 

Made in Space CTO Jason Dunn (left) and P.I. of the 3DP Experiment Mike Snyder look to optimize the first 3D printer for space.
Made in Space CTO Jason Dunn (left) and P.I. of the 3DP Experiment Mike Snyder look to optimize the first 3D printer for space.

Junior and teen aspiring engineers recently put their thinking hats on and came up with a few tools and items star voyagers on the International Space Station will find useful. Founding member of innovative education platform Future Engineers and partner NASA issued a challenge to young innovators to “think outside the box” in solving problems astronauts (star voyagers) will face while living and working in space during the decades ahead. The challenge to design a tool or item star voyagers on the International Space Station could use to make living in a microgravity environment easier. Aspiring inventors and young innovators answered the challenge with some stunning, innovative tools and items we’re sure astronauts living and working on the space station will find valuable. You can check out the aspiring engineers and their innovative space tools here.

Testing of the Made In Space 3D printer involved 400-plus parabolas of microgravity test flights. Credits: Credit: Made In Space
Testing of the Made In Space 3D printer involved 400-plus parabolas of microgravity test flights. Credit: Made In Space

Read about what astronomers have discovered about the distribution of elements during the first moments of the cosmos.

Help NASA look for young planetary systems that could contain a cradle for a new human Genesis to begin by becoming a Disk Detective.

Learn more about China’s more recent contributions to the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

Check out all of the 3D Printing in Space Challenges issued to young innovators and aspiring engineers by NASA at Future Engineers.

Learn more about the International Space Station.

Join NASA’s journey to the beginning of space and time here.

Learn more about innovative education platform Future Engineers.

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Binary Star System V404 Cygni Flares to Life

Forming rings of X-ray light that expand with time, creating a shooting target effect 

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Rings of X-ray light centered on V404 Cygni, a binary system containing an erupting black hole (dot at center), were imaged by the X-ray Telescope aboard NASA’s Swift satellite from June 30 to July 4. A narrow gap splits the middle ring in two. Color indicates the energy of the X-rays, with red representing the lowest (800 to 1,500 electron volts, eV), green for medium (1,500 to 2,500 eV), and the most energetic (2,500 to 5,000 eV) shown in blue. For comparison, visible light has energies ranging from about 2 to 3 eV. The dark lines running diagonally through the image are artifacts of the imaging system. Credits: Andrew Beardmore (Univ. of Leicester) and NASA/Swift

Space news (astrophysics: binary star systems; black hole/sun-like star systems) – 8,000 light-years away toward the constellation Cygnus, next to flaring 10 solar mass black hole – 

It all started just before 2:32 p.m. on June 15, 2015, when NASA’s Swift X-ray Burst Alert Satellite detected a rising wave of high-speed, extremely-energetic X-rays emanating from the direction of the constellation Cygnus. Additional detections of the same flare ten minutes later by a Japanese experiment on the International Space Station called the Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI) and other detectors. Allowed astronomers to determine the outburst detected originated 8,000 light-years away in low-mass X-ray binary V404 Cygni, where previous data indicated a stellar-mass black hole and sun-like star orbited each other. A black hole and sun-like star binary system that up to this point had been sleeping since its last outburst in 1989. 

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The Swift X-ray image of V404 Cygni covers a patch of the sky equal to about half the apparent diameter of the full moon. This image shows the rings as they appeared on June 30. Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio (left), Andrew Beardmore (Univ. of Leicester); NASA/Swift (right)

Fifteen days later on June 30, a team of scientists from around the world led by Andrew Beardmore of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom investigated V404 Cygni a little closer using NASA’s Swift X-ray Burst Alert Satellite. Images taken (above) revealed a series of concentric rings of X-ray light centered on a 10 solar mass black hole (dot at the center of image). 

On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box. Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist's illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. The black hole pulls material from a massive, blue companion star toward it. This material forms a disk (shown in red and orange) that rotates around the black hole before falling into it or being redirected away from the black hole in the form of powerful jets.
On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box. Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist’s illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. The black hole pulls material from a massive, blue companion star toward it. This material forms a disk (shown in red and orange) that rotates around the black hole before falling into it or being redirected away from the black hole in the form of powerful jets.

Astronomers believe the x-ray rings are the result of echoing x-ray light from a large flare on June 26, 2016, at 1:40 p.m. EDT. The flare emitted x-rays in all directions. Multiple dust layers at around 4,000 and 1,000 light-years from V404 Cygni reflected some of these x-rays towards Earth. This reflected light travels a greater distance and reaches us slightly later than light traveling a straighter path. The small time difference produced an x-ray echo, formed x-ray rings expanding in spacetime.  

“The flexible planning of Swift observations has given us the best dust-scattered X-ray ring images ever seen,” Beardmore said. “With these observations, we can make a detailed study of the normally invisible interstellar dust in the direction of this black hole.” 

What’s next?

The team is currently watching V404 Cygni, waiting for its next outburst, and preparing Swift to collect additional data to determine exactly what’s going on here. They hope to hit the bulls eye in human understanding of the collection on x-ray sources detected across the cosmos. Regular monitoring of this binary system using a suite of telescopes and instruments could give us clues to how a stellar-mass black hole and sun-like star end up orbiting each other. About the origin and formation of the unusual types of binary systems detected during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

Watch this YouTube video on the flaring of V404 Cygni.

You can follow the space journey of NASA here

Learn more about the space voyage of the Swift X-ray Burst Alert Telescope

Discover V404 Cygni

Read about and discover the International Space Station here

Read more about the Japanese experiment Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI)

Travel across the Tarantula nebula on a runaway star.

Read about the Kepler Space Telescope’s recent observation of the shockwave from a nearby supernova for the first time in human history.

Take a look and learn more about NASA’s Europa spacecraft.

3-D Printer on International Space Station Hint of Space Technology on Horizon

The Mulitpurpose Precision Maintenance Tool, created by University of Alabama in Huntsville student Robert Hillan as part of the Future Engineers Space Tool Challenge, was printed on the International Space Station. It is designed to provide astronauts with a single tool that can help with a variety of tasks, including tightening nuts or bolts of different sizes and stripping wires. Credits: NASA
The Multipurpose Precision Tool seen here was printed on the International Space Station using emerging 3D printer technology by University of Alabama in Huntsville student Robert Hillan as part of the Future Engineers Space Tool Challenge. A single tool designed to help astronauts complete a variety of tasks, including tightening bolts and bolts.
Credits: NASA

Gadgets, ratchets, and things that go bump in the dark on demand 

Space news (space technology: Future Engineers Space Tool Challenge; The Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool) – The International Space Station, June 15, 2014 – 

Deanne Bell, founder and director of the Future Engineers challenges
Deanne Bell, founder and director of Future Engineers challenges young innovators of America to build a future in space. Credit: Fedscoop.com.

Travelers adventuring in distant, unknown lands can’t carry a tool and replacement for every job along the way. They need a multipurpose tool designed to do a number of important tasks, ready to go to work at a moments notice. For astronauts traveling, living and working in space, University of Alabama in Huntsville sophomore engineering student Robert Hillan has designed The Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool as part of the Future Engineers Space Tool Challenge. A single tool capable of helping astronauts complete a number of jobs, including tightening and loosening bolts and nuts of various sizes, and stripping wires. The best part’s the Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool recently debuted on the International Space Station. 

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NASA, the American Society for Mechanical Engineers Foundation and Star Trek invite young innovators of America to design hardware astronauts in space could use to grow, harvest, prepare, eat or dispose of food products as part of the latest Future Engineers 3d-Printing Challenge. Credit: Future Engineers/NASA/Star Trek

“Our challenges invite students to invent objects for astronauts, which can be both inspiring and incredibly tough,” said Deanne Bell, founder and director of the Future Engineers challenges. “Students must have the creativity to innovate for the unique environment of space, but also the practical, hands-on knowledge to make something functional and useful. It’s a delicate balance, but this combination of creativity, analytical skills, and fluency in current technology is at the heart of engineering education.” 

Robert Hillan, a sophomore engineering student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, watches a 3-D printer on the International Space Station complete his winning design for the Future Engineers Space Tool Challenge. Part of his prize for winning the competition was going behind the scenes to watch the printing process from NASA's Payload Operations Integration Center -- mission control for space station science located at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. Credits: NASA
Young innovators dream of standing in NASA’s Payload Operations Integration Center, mission control for the International Space Station. Robert Hillan, a sophomore engineering student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, smiles as the 3-D printer on the International Space Station completes his winning design for the Future Engineers Space Tool Challenge. Just part of his winning prize for being one of the best young innovators in America.
Credits: NASA

As part of his prize after winning the Future Engineers Space Tool Challenge in January of 2015, Robert Hillan watched from the Payload Operations Integration Center of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama as his tool came off the 3-D printer on the International Space Station. Robert smiled as NASA astronaut Jeff Williams showed the completed tool coming off the Additive Manufacturing Facility on board. 

The International Space Station’s 3-D printer has manufactured the first 3-D printed object in space, paving the way to future long-term space expeditions. The object, a printhead faceplate, is engraved with names of the organizations that collaborated on this space station technology demonstration: NASA and Made In Space, Inc., the space manufacturing company that worked with NASA to design, build and test the 3-D printer. This image of the printer, with the Microgravity Science Glovebox Engineering Unit in the background, was taken in April 2014 during flight certification and acceptance testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, prior to its launch to the station aboard a SpaceX commercial resupply mission. The first objects built in space will be returned to Earth in 2015 for detailed analysis and comparison to the identical ground control samples made on the flight printer prior to launch. The goal of this analysis is to verify that the 3-D printing process works the same in microgravity as it does on Earth. The printer works by extruding heated plastic, which then builds layer upon layer to create three-dimensional objects. Testing this on the station is the first step toward creating a working "machine shop" in space. This capability may decrease cost and risk on the station, which will be critical when space explorers venture far from Earth and will create an on-demand supply chain for needed tools and parts. Long-term missions would benefit greatly from onboard manufacturing capabilities. Data and experience gathered in this demonstration will improve future 3-D manufacturing technology and equipment for the space program, allowing a greater degree of autonomy and flexibility for astronauts. Image Credit: NASA/Emmett Given
The International Space Station’s 3-D printer has manufactured 3-D printed object in space, paving the road to a promising, long-term future in space for mankind. The object seen here is a printhead faceplate engraved with names of the organizations that collaborated on this space station technology demonstration: NASA and Made In Space, Inc., the space manufacturing company that worked with NASA to design, build and test the 3-D printer.
Image Credit: NASA/Emmett Given

Watch this video showing the Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool aboard the International Space Station here.

“I am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to design something for fabrication on the space station,” Hillan said. “I have always had a passion for space exploration, and space travel in general. I designed the tool to adapt to different situations, and as a result, I hope to see variants of the tool being used in the future, hopefully when it can be created using stronger materials.”  

Watch a time lapse video of the printing of the Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool here.

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Attired in the training versions of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra trains in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Credits: NASA

Robert also got to spend a few minutes chatting with astronauts living and working on the International Space Station. NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, stationed aboard at the time commented on Hillan’s tool, “When you have a problem, it will drive specific requirements and solutions. 3-D printing allows you to do a quick design to meet those requirements. That’s the beauty of this tool and this technology. You can produce something you hadn’t anticipated and do it on short notice.” 

Watch a video of his conversation with astronauts on the International Space Station here.

“You have a great future ahead of you.” 

What does our young, intrepid inventor plan in the future?  

What’s next for our young inventor?

“When I won the competition, I started seeing problems I face as new opportunities to create and learn,” Hillan said. “Since then I have tried to seize every opportunity that presents itself. I love finding solutions to problems, and I want to apply that mentality as I pursue my engineering degree and someday launch my own company.” 

We see red horizons ahead for this young man. A steady light that goes bravely forward into the future. We expect to hear about him doing big things in the future. No matter the path he chooses. 

You can learn more about Future Engineers and all their past and future challenges here

Join the space journey of NASA

Learn more about the International Space Station here

Read more about NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

Discover 3-D printer technology and the future it promises here

Read about a supermassive star astronomers have nicknamed Nasty 1.

Read about a runaway star traveling across the cosmos.

Witness and learn more about the spectacular Bubble Nebula.

Astronauts in Orbiting Spacecraft Need to Constantly Monitor Their Body Mass

Astronaut Bill Arthur sets up the SLAMMD during Expedition 12
Astronaut Bill Arthur sets up the SLAMMD during Expedition 12 Image Credit: NASA

Astronauts in orbit need to be able to monitor their body mass to stay healthy and strong 

The SLAMMD is visible here during Expedition 19
The SLAMMD is visible here during Expedition 19 Image Credit: NASA

Space news (astronaut health: protecting astronauts in space; SLAMMD) – the International Space Station –

Traveling in an orbiting spacecraft is hazardous to human health and can lead to bone and muscle mass loss in astronauts during extended missions on the International Space Station. The loss of a significant amount of body mass can have severe consequences all astronauts need to take into serious consider during long stays in space.

The concept of the difference between a body’s mass and weight is something NASA and all astronauts in orbiting spacecraft need to take into serious consideration. Weight is the downward force exerted by a mass as a result of gravity.  Mass is the amount of matter contained within an object. On a regular schedule, astronauts in the International Space Station will conduct a body mass measurement, using a Space Linear Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD). This is a device operating on the principles of Newton’s Second Law of Motion (F = ma) that measures an astronauts’ mass while in orbit to an accuracy of 0.5 pounds.

The SLAMMD was initially installed during Expedition 11 and has since this time been used consistently by astronauts on the International Space Station to measure their body mass. Essentially, it works using two springs located in a drawer, which is attached to the astronaut being measured. The SLAMMD is designed to always apply a constant force no matter how far the springs are stretched. It measures the average acceleration of an astronauts’ mass, which is used along with the equation F = ma to calculate the mass of the astronaut.

Astronaut Frank De Winne measures his body mass using the SLAMMD during Expedition 20
Astronaut Frank De Winne measures his body mass using the SLAMMD during Expedition 20

The average acceleration of an astronauts’ mass is precisely measured by an optical device which detects the trajectory of the SLAMMD guide arm. A microcontroller collects the displacement versus time data and provides the precise timing required.

You can find more information on NASA and the health issues astronauts deal with while in orbit here.

For more information on the International Space Station visit.

Read about NASA’s Rosetta spacecraft preparing to write history

Read about icy geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus

Learn how you can take part in the hunt for asteroids coming close to Earth