A small group of Salt Lake Community College students have set their sights on an out-of-this-world target: capturing an asteroid.
Elliott Befus, Aimee Oz, Bobby Brisendine and Joshua Reed have taken the initiative to create a proposal for NASA’s Micro-G University Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams program, or Micro-g NExT for short. The Micro-g NExT challenge is an opportunity for undergraduate students from all over the country to apply their skills in design, engineering, creativity and presentation.
“NASA conducts a community college aerospace scholars program that I participated in last spring, and I met someone who happened to be doing the Micro-g NExT project with his school,” Oz says. “I got super interested in it and when I came back, Elliott [and I] talked about this project and decided we would like to do this.”
Other members of the group came on board through a mutual love for science and technology.
“I know a lot about CAD [computer-aided design and drafting] and machining, and I thought it would be helpful to join in. I was interested because I always liked space stuff,” Brisendine says. “My goal is to be an aerospace engineer anyway, so this is a great way to my foot in the door.”
Micro-g NExT participants choose from one of three separate challenges: an anchoring device, a subsurface sampling device, or a surface sampling device. This group chose to design an anchoring device they’ve dubbed the Maleri, or multi anchoring lightweight regulate instrument.
“It [Maleri] was named after George Mallory, who was one of the first to try and climb Mount Everest,” Befus says.
The Maleri consists of a drill, an anchor, and tethering components that an astronaut would manually operate. The group is using NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) — an attempt to bring an asteroid into lunar orbit for study — as an example of where the Maleri would be useful.
“One of the technical challenges of ARM is to have a device that’s capable of anchoring itself in microgravity to celestial bodies of unknown composition,” Oz says.
If their proposal is chosen, the team will participate in an underwater test of their device at NASA’s Johnson Space Center Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas. If the testing is successful, their design could be used in future space missions.
“We’ll find out if they accept the proposal in December and then we’ll start testing and machining the tool … then sometime in late spring they’ll take us down to the Johnson Space Center,” Befus says.