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

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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.

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Seven University Teams Selected to Design Prototypes for 2017 X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge

Proposals selected advance development of 3D printer technology and printing capabilities, develop and improve long-term plant growth and water recycling systems, and design new conceptual habitats

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Space news (new space technology: deep space habitats; the 2017 X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge) – NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) division headquarters – 

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This map shows the relative location and project of each of the seven teams selected for 2017 challenge. Credits: NASA

NASA and partner the National Space Grant Foundation recently announced the selection of seven university teams to design and build the prototypes proposed as part of the 2017 X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge. The teams selected have the 2016 – 2017 academic year to develop their proposal into functional, working prototypes astronauts could use around the International Space Station. At the same time, they’ll gain valuable hands-on design and engineering skills and experience necessary to achieve their goals in the years ahead. During the school year, teams selected complete scheduled reviews of engineering designs and conduct three proposal status meetings with NASA officials before submitting finished prototypes in May 2017. 

“The X-Hab challenge allows NASA to access new ideas and emerging concepts while providing undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in technology development,” said Tracy Gill, who leads the X-Hab activity from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “We are particularly excited to see returning teams that are successfully continuing to build on the designs and lessons learned from prior years.” 

Seven university teams were selected to design, engineer and build useful, handy prototypes astronauts could use on a daily basis to make life in space and on the International Space Station easier to manage. Each team receives a grant up to $30,000, which is managed by the National Space Grant Foundation on behalf of NASA and the American people. To support each team’s work on designing and developing useful prototypes to make life in space, and on Earth, easier to manage during the decades ahead. 

The seven university teams selected to complete the 2017 X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge are: 

Being able to recycle the material you used to construct necessary tools during a long space journey or while colonizing Mars is a neat trick. Students at the University of Connecticut are working on developing a recycling plan for integrated 3-D printer technology that will be used during future space missions. It will be capable of both manufacturing and recycling polymer parts and will address the form, fit, and function of polymer parts being refitted during their entire lifespan. The ability to reuse the material used to construct items made by integrated 3-D printer technology will save space, energy, and other resources, which will reduce the number of resupply missions required during long space missions. 

Engineers and designers have only scratched the surface of possible uses of the integrated 3-D printer technology on the International Space Station. The Young geniuses at the University of Maryland are working on new technology designed and engineered to utilize 3-D printing to make strong, rigid parts for the pressurized spacesuits astronauts need to work and live in space. They plan on using mostly additive manufacturing technologies to design and engineer low-friction bearings, rotary seals and pressure seals for state-of-the-art spacesuits. This technology could help develop other applications for deep space exploration and the eventual colonization of Mars. 

Medical professionals studying the physical and medical problems associated with long term space travel and living on Mars say the build up of CO2’s a problem for astronauts. A team of student innovators and inventors at the University of Colorado are working on developing technology to reduce the levels of CO2 during space voyages of the future. They’re working on improving the processes used to remove CO2 concentrations, which can adversely affect astronaut performance and health during future space missions. Necessary technology for the success any trip to the Red Planet and the survival of future colonists planning on living on Mars. 

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Preparing food grown during a long space journey or while colonizing the Red Planet’s going to be an adventure in itself. Designer, engineers, and scientists of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York are planning on perfecting their Mars Transit Habitat design. This time, they plan on using elements from their design for a kitchen and sleeping pod for a Mars transit habitat concept not requiring redesigned as their template for a kitchen and sleeping pod concept for a Mars surface habitat. Unfortunately, the astronauts heading into space and living on Mars won’t find any Star Trek Food Replicators in the Pratt Institute’s kitchen designs. Guess they’ll have to make do with instant coffee and pre-packaged, processed foods.  

The Pratt Institute's Mars Transit Habitat Concept. Credits: The Pratt Institute
Normally we spend over one third of our lives on Earth sleeping and eating. Will it be different living on a spacecraft in space? The Pratt Institute’s Mars Transit Habitat Concept is a step in the direction of eating and sleeping comfortably during our trips across the solar system and beyond.
Credits: The Pratt Institute

Making sure internal systems of all habitat systems and modules needed to ensure a successful trip to Mars are compatible and interchangeable will make the trip and life on the Red Planet easier. Design geniuses from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater are working on constructing the communications, controls and environmental systems needed to integrate NASA’s Stafford Deep Space Habitat (SDSH) and Martian Reconfiguration Habitat (ReHAB). This team has also been working on systems for NASA’s Multi-purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) and the Organics and Agricultural Sustainment Inflatable System (OASIS). All the internal systems of the individual components sent to Mars will need to be completely compatible. It will make implementation, maintenance, and repair of systems easier for astronauts heading into space and colonizing Mars. 

Eating the right amount of food during a long space journey through the solar system or to Mars is a problem for astronauts. You can’t just take along all the foodstuffs you need to ensure you get the required amount of calories and vitamins. Ingenious engineers and designers from Ohio State University in Wooster are working on perfecting previous improvements they made to NASA’s Vegetable Production System (Veggie) on the International Space Station. Presently, they’re working on eliminating air bubbles in the water column between the water reservoir and plants while keeping root oxygen levels sufficient for growth, which improves water capillary transport. They’re also evaluating the feasibility of recycling plant biomass to use as soil, which will reduce the need to launch it into space. Fresh vegetables to consume during a long space trip to Mars is a thumbs up to the team. 

The Ohio State University's passive water delivery system. Credits: The Ohio State University
The Ohio State University’s passive water delivery system is designed to provide water to grow vegetables to keep astronauts healthy during long periods or trips in space.
Credits: The Ohio State University

Wastewater treatment during long-term space travel or on Mars isn’t going to be the simple flush and forget it’s on Earth. A team of engineers and designers from the University of Michigan are working on a next generation system to clean and recycle the limited amount of water that will be available during any space trip. They’ll also work on designs for wastewater treatment systems usable in low gravity environments, like the surface of the Moon or the Red Planet. The water isn’t going to be the freshest in the solar system, but it will be wet, and wonderful to drink during a long journey across the solar system. 

What’s next?

The seven teams in this challenge submitted proposals early in 2016 that were selected by officials. During the 2016-2017 academic year, each team will work towards a number of milestones on the road to designing, manufacturing, assembling, and testing proposed systems and concepts. They’ll work shoulder to shoulder with scientists and engineers of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, the Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications and Advanced Exploration Systems divisions. Together they’ll advance technology in additive manufacturing, advanced life support systems, and space habitation and food production systems. Just seven groups of big kids playing with their new toys and dreaming of the things they can do with them. 

Learn about changes to a theory concerning active supermassive black holes.

Read about one of the brightest cosmic events ever recorded during the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

Learn how astronomers study the formation of new stars.

Watch this YouTube video made by NASA astronauts about living and working in space.

Learn more about living in space here

Read and learn what NASA has learned about living and working in space.

Read about NASA’s plans to travel to and live on Mars

Read and discover 3-D printer technology here

Discover the work being done by the National Space Grant Foundation

Take the space journey of NASA here

Learn more about the Red Planet

Learn more about the 2017 X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge here

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.

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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.

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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

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