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For their Future Projects, NASA tests Underwater tools made by students

The U.S. space agency invited college students from around the country to design, build and test devices and tools that could be useful on future missions

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NASA
NASA Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory Astronaut Training Image source: Wikipedia

Scuba divers worked a crank on a metal box that soon sent up a cloud of dust from the pallet of gravel where the device was anchored. Watching them closely on control room monitors, Mathew, an engineering student from West Virginia University, provided instructions.

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“The only reference is the driver’s non-dominant hand should be grasping the handle on the side of the case,” he said, who is also the project manager for a team of West Virginia University.

T NASA selected 25 teams and invited them to Houston to test their creations.

Asteroid material sampling

The main mission for which these tools would be needed is NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, said NASA’s Microgravity Next Program Manager Trinesha Dixon.

“The Asteroid Redirect Mission is looking for solutions as to how the crew members might collect samples on an asteroid,” she said.

NASA plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to an asteroid in September to extract small samples for analysis. A mission with astronauts on board is planned for sometime after 2020, utilizing the Orion spacecraft, a model of which is in the Johnson Space Center training facility.

Aerial View of NASA. Image source: Wikipedia
Aerial View of NASA. Image source: Wikipedia

Dixon said part of the difficulty in designing tools for such a mission is that no one knows what kind of material will be found on an asteroid, how hard it will be to penetrate, and what kind of effect might be produced by drilling or chopping into it.

After divers returned their device at pool’s edge, the West Virginia University students took it back to the large hall where each team had a separate table. There, they took it apart and carefully cleaned all the parts, including the two augurs that would be utilized to drill into the surface of an asteroid and extract material. Coming from a state known for mining, the team initially modeled its device on mechanisms used in mines that clamp to a surface and hold the drill steady.

Mathew Morrow explained, “When astronauts visit an asteroid, they need a tool out on the asteroid that can anchor, to hook their tools to, so we chose that design challenge.”

NASA supplied criteria for five separate types of tools or devices and let the students use their creativity and knowledge of engineering to come up with designs. Once the designs were accepted, they then had to build a prototype for testing.

“This is all student driven,” said West Virginia University College of Engineering and Mineral Resources professor Thomas Evans, who accompanied the three-student team to Houston. “I was just the faculty adviser and mentored them and drove them to deliver a product on time so they could be down here.”

Their device worked even better than expected, according to Evans.

“It was exceptional! I think this team did a fantastic job,” he said.

Evans said the West Virginia University team benefited from frequent visits to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the neighboring state of Maryland, where Mathew Morrow had an internship.

Ideas NASA can use for space tool development

The experience was exciting for the students involved, but they may also one day see some of the elements in their designs used in devices that astronauts employ in space.

NASA’s Dixon said, “We can take components from different tools, concepts that the student teams might come up with, and put them together in our conceptualization of that tool.”

In addition to that, she said, having such a program encourages students interested in space flight to continue their studies and possibly become part of NASA’s future workforce.

Mathew Morrow is one who has such hopes.

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“I am really hoping that there might be an opportunity there (NASA) or somewhere else in the space industry, whether it be in a private company or with the government,” he said.

Opportunities in the private sector for space engineers have diversified from being mainly contractors building rockets and other equipment for NASA to service companies with their own spacecraft that can ferry supplies to the International Space Station, and may one day take passengers into space and become involved in efforts to extract minerals and other resources from the moon, asteroids or other planets. (VOA)

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India and Russia Discussing Wide Range of Cooperation in Space Sector

What has been finalised is the agreement to train the Indian cosmonauts by Russia for our human space mission Gaganyaan

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India, Russia, Space
We are in discussions with the Russian space agency on various aspects and nothing has been firmed up. Pixabay

India and Russia are discussing a wide range of cooperation in the space sector with the latter’s offer of its semi-cryogenic engine technology and critical components for India’s human space capsule, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)Chairman K. Sivan said on Sunday.

“We are in discussions with the Russian space agency on various aspects and nothing has been firmed up. What has been finalised is the agreement to train the Indian cosmonauts by Russia for our human space mission Gaganyaan,” Sivan told IANS in an interview here.

“Russia is offering its semi-cryogenic rocket engine technology to India under the `Make-in-India’ programme. The rocket engines could be made in India and used in our rockets,” Sivan said.

In a recently statement, Russian state-run space corporation Roscosmos said the two countries will discuss cooperation in the sphere of piloted space flights, satellite navigation and engine technology.

India, Russia, Space
India and Russia are discussing a wide range of cooperation in the space sector with the latter’s offer of its semi-cryogenic engine technology and critical components for India’s human space capsule. Pixabay

Sivan also said the two countries are also discussing the setting up of ground stations in each other’s countries to enhance the accuracy of their satellite navigation signals.

“We want to set up our ground station for our NavIC system in Russia. Russia, in turn, wants to set up a ground station in India for its satellite navigation system. The Russian ground station will be in Bengaluru while ours is likely to be in Moscow,” Sivan said.

Queried about the sourcing of critical components for India’s human space mission ‘Gaganyaan’ from Russia, Sivan replied: “The discussions are on. Nothing has been finalised. We have to see whether we need to buy their components. The components have to be suitable for us.”

Sivan also said the ISRO’s focus currently is on India’s moon landing mission Chandrayaan-2.

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The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft is now in the lunar orbit and ISRO will have to carry out three more orbital manoeuvres to bring it to an altitude of 100 km from the moon surface.

Thereafter, the lander ‘Vikram’ will separate and will soft land on the moon’s South Pole on September 7 around 1.55 a.m. (IANS)