We first heard about the Print the Future competition in October of 2016. Enterprise in Space (EIS), a nonprofit program of the National Space Society (NSS), and the Kepler Space Institute collaborated with Made In Space (MIS), 3D Hubs, Sketchfab, and Prairie Nanotechnology to launch the competition, aimed at university student teams. The objective was to drive innovation in space manufacturing technology, and give teams the chance to 3D print a NewSpace experiment on the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) aboard the ISS that can help humanity expand throughout space.
The designs had to meet the requirements of the AMF, and they were judged on originality, scientific and engineering merit, and commercial potential. All participants received a virtual crew member certificate, their name flown aboard the NSS Enterprise Spacecraft and displayed with the craft in a museum upon re-entry, a one-year professional account to Sketchfab, and their design uploaded to Sketchfab. The three finalist teams were announced in April, and had their projects prototyped through 3D Hubs.
At last weekend’s 36th annual NSS International Space Development Conference (ISDC), the teams presented their experiments, and then EIS announced the winners.
The grand prize winner is Team ProtoFluidics, from the University of Pennsylvania, with its microfluidic modules. Undergraduate students Jaimie Carlson, Laura Gao, and Adam Zachar designed 3D printable modules that can be used for rapid prototyping of microfluidic experiments on the ISS.
Zachar said, “With our 3D-printable microfluidic modules, researchers can easily design custom microfluidic circuits to conduct experiments for disease diagnosis, chemical analysis, protein crystallization, and more, capitalizing on the microgravity on station. This process allows researchers to bypass the cost of fabricating and transporting conventional microfluidics to orbit.”
Team ProtoFluidics will work with MIS to test print their microfluidic modules on Earth first, and then they will be 3D printed aboard the ISS before the end of the year. The ISS will then send the 3D printed project, which can be used to help scientists in space perform multiple experiments, back to Earth, so that Team ProtoFluidics can study the result with the help of Prairie Nanotechnology’s advanced research equipment.
“The most valuable economic advantages to 3D printing microfluidics on the ISS are the immense time and cost savings to researchers,” said Zachar. “Currently, sending a microfluidic experiment up to the ISS can cost as much as $27,000 for the launch and up to 12 months of wait time. 3D printing could significantly reduce these costs & delays by allowing researchers to fabricate their experiments on station, bypassing the launch completely.”
In addition, one member of Team ProtoFluidics will receive an R.S. Kirby Memorial Scholarship from the Kepler Space Institute, valued at $5,000. The goal of the scholarship, which can be applied towards a full certificate program, is to encourage space advocates all around the world.
Team H2, comprised of University of Pennsylvania masters students Haimin Yie and Hyung Jin Yoo, was the first runner up, with its H2 Capsule. The capsule is intended for the early Mars explorers of the future, so they can store media and other objects to capture their personalities and stories. It will give the explorers a way to confront and accept death as a possible mission outcome, while also giving them a way to share their experiences with future generations.
Finally, the second runner up was Team Bengal Tigers and its Multipurpose Wrench. Hasan Latif, a PhD student from North Carolina State University, and Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology masters students Shourav Ahmed, Habibur Rahman, Tavila Sharmin, and Ankhy Sultana designed the multifunctional tool. It can reduce the need for astronauts to carry multiple tools in space, as it is able to loosen and tighten different sizes of bolts, nuts, and screws.
All of the finalist team entries are currently on display on Sketchfab. In addition, a results paper on each of the winning experiments will be published in Ad Astra Magazine and an industry trade journal for 3D printing. Discuss in the Print the Future forum at 3DPB.com.