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Space Age Technology… in Space: 3D Print Challenge by NASA

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There are few technologies that are currently revolutionizing human capabilities as much as those offered through 3D printing. What if you wanted to make that into something even more cutting edge? Well, the logical next step is: do it in space!

No, this isn’t the plot for the next Tommy Lee Jones/Ben Affleck movie; instead, it is a challenge that has been issued by NASA to the GrabCAD community to design a Handrail Clamp Assembly (HCA) for the International Space Station (ISS). Astronauts at the ISS would use the assembly to “provide [the] rigid mounting locations required in a microgravity environment” – in other words, to be able to hold on tightly to a surface despite the fact that the tendency in space is to float. So you can see how that would be useful.

clampThey haven’t just been holding on for dear life up until now. The HCA currently in use has a seat track interface but NASA is looking for a new design. They are offering prizes worth $2,000 and have, to date, received seven entries. The deadline to enter the Clamp for Handrail with Additively Manufactured Parts (CHAMP) challenge is less than a month away and the submissions will be reviewed by an expert jury composed of:

  • Niki Werkheiser, NASA In-space Manufacturing Project Manager
  • Quincy Bean, NASA In-space Manufacturing Principal Investigator
  • Drew Hood, NASA Exploration EVA Tools Engineer
  • Jason Waggoner, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Structural & Mechanical Design Branch Chief
  • Sara Sigel, Community Manager at GrabCAD

Determinations in regard to the merit of the submissions will be made based on total material usage, the number of prints required to complete each CHAMP, the hand rail connection, and the seat track connection. The characteristics for evaluation are part of what make this particular project more than just another Earth-bound hand clamp assembly.

The amount of material used in the creation of your design is vital because the ISS has an established maximum amount of ABS plastic allowed. This is because of offgassing issues that occur within the pressurized space of the ISS. In addition, there are a limited number of astronauts on the ISS all of whom have limited time – after all they are there to do other things – so the print process itself cannot be overly time consuming.

in situTo see all of the requirements in terms of materials, dimensions, and functionality, you can visit the GrabCAD site through which submissions can be uploaded. The winning entries will be announced by March 17.

What do you think about this space-age contest? Will you be entering your unique design? Let us know your thoughts over at the Space Age Tech in Space forum thread at 3DPB.com.

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