It’s become obvious over the last several years that NASA loves a good contest. The agency is enthusiastic about crowdsourcing ideas and inventions from the general public through design challenges, and those design challenges have led to everything from tools for space to entirely new 3D printing technologies. NASA has worked with multiple partners to develop and launch these challenges, and one of its most frequent partners has been Freelancer.com. The two agencies have worked together on 29 contests, soliciting over 6,800 contest entries from 123 countries.
We took a look at one of those contests last year, when NASA and Freelancer teamed up to challenge designers to create a logo for the In-Space Manufacturing Project. Now, the partners are introducing three brand new challenges, one of which is centered on the International Space Station-based 3D printer and filament recycler known as the Refabricator.
The Refabricator’s purpose is to make outer space a zero-waste zone, or as close to it as possible. The device both 3D prints and recycles old 3D prints and scrap material into new filament, with minimal material degradation and little attention needed from the astronauts. The latest challenge asks participants to create a mission patch for the Refabricator. Entrants are asked to incorporate the themes of space exploration, recycling, and on-demand manufacturing. The winning graphic will be used in presentations, on items such as T-shirts and mugs, and in education and outreach materials.
“In future space missions, due to mass and volume constraints, the astronauts might not bring a hammer. Instead they will bring a 3D printer and some goop to manufacture a hammer,” Freelancer.com CEO Matt Barrie told 3DPrint.com. “When they are done with the hammer, they’ll recycle it to build a wrench. Freelancer is excited to be working with NASA to solve complex manufacturing problems in deep space that can be solved through innovation in 3D printing.”
Another challenge being launched by NASA and Freelancer is geared toward origami enthusiasts. Participants are asked to use origami concepts to design a folding, deployable radiation shield for a future Mars transfer vehicle that will take humans into deep space. Cancer caused by radiation is a major concern for those heading into deep space, so the shield should offer protection from galactic cosmic rays (GCRs).
Finally, a third contest challenges entrants to design a storyboard for a two-minute video or animation for the REALM (RFID-Enabled Autonomous Logistics Management) project. REALM is focused on the automation of logistics management for future space missions, using radio frequency identification, or RFID, technologies. The objective is to develop technology that automates tasks such as inventories and item searches.
“The International Space Station (ISS) is home to thousands of items both large and small, from everyday personal supplies to complex pieces of equipment crucial for scientific experiments,” explained NASA. “To prevent them from floating away in microgravity and getting lost, they are sometimes secured in containers attached to the walls, and in other instances they are stored in cargo bags that might be stacked two or three deep. The RFID-Enabled Autonomous Logistics Management (REALM) (RFID Logistics Awareness) investigation tests a radio-based inventory control system to keep track of everything inside the football-field-sized ISS. Some aspects of the technology are commonly used on Earth, but other aspects are experimental in nature.”
Future REALM experiments could include more delegating more advanced operations, such as unpacking and setup before humans arrive on a planet, to robots. In the meantime, the job of those participating in the challenge is to explain REALM in layman’s terms to the general public. This challenge carries a prize of $500; further information can be found here.
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