Last summer, electronics distribution company Mouser Electronics, together with celebrity engineer and inventor Grant Imahara, put college students, makers, and engineers to the 3D design test. They issued a challenge to create a 3D printable electronic object that could actually be printed, and used, in space, on the Made In Space zero-gravity 3D printer aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS Design Challenge was part of Mouser’s Empowering Innovation Together program, launched when its Innovation Lab opened. Contest entrants had to include a design image, electrical schematic for the design, a Bill of Materials, and PCB fabrication files, as well as write a short essay on why their design idea would benefit the astronauts on board the ISS.
The challenge winners were announced in late 2016, and Imahara, together with fellow judge and former ISS commander Chris Hadfield, looked through close to 250 design ideas before deciding on the winners. Third place winner Thomas Delmas, with his design for a vise that can keep objects stationary while they’re being fixed in zero gravity, and second place winner Alsie Cluff, with her space tongs design, each won a Fluke Meter device; all entrants won a free Mouser Genius Tee Shirt. Engineer Andy Filo, from Cupertino, California, was the grand prize winner, with his 3D printable femtosatellite-launching device. Filo was awarded a 3D printer, valued at about $500, but the more exciting prize happened earlier this month – Imahara and Mouser Electronics announced that his design has been successfully 3D printed on the ISS.
The contest page states, “The winning design has been chosen. Our mission has now turned to 3D printing the winning entry aboard the International Space Station – 200 miles above Earth and to demonstrate how 3D printing on-site, on-demand, in deep-space is a viable solution to addressing the weight and cargo concerns of long-term space missions. See what new frontiers the winning design may open as we continue to explore new worlds.”
Postage stamp-sized femtosatellites, which weigh less than 100 grams, have several features, including a magnetometer and a gyroscope. They can analyze sensor data with a low-power microcontroller and use the memory to describe asteroids, cosmic rays, and coronal events. Filo’s innovative device can shoot multiple femtosatellites out from the ISS, which is helpful for astronauts who are surrounded by floating equipment. The device is now in orbit, and could someday be used by scientists and astronauts for multiple missions; for example, these tiny satellites could be used to study Earth’s environment, monitor disasters, and even fly in formation to build an antenna for analyzing deep space.
The winning design of Mouser Electronics’ ISS Design Challenge has been 3D printed aboard the ISS. [Image: Business Wire]
Filo’s project was digitally transmitted to the ISS, but before it could be printed, Filo and Made in Space made a few quick modifications to the original design, including increasing its printing speed and rounding the device handle to increase comfort and usability. It was finally 3D printed about two weeks ago by the very first commercially available off-world manufacturing service, Made in Space’s Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF).
Glenn Smith, President and CEO of Mouser Electronics, said, “Mouser is excited to be part of new and innovative projects that bring together engineers and makers from around the world and — in this case — beyond. Andy’s femtosatellite-launching device meets the needs of astronauts as well as earthbound researchers and engineers.”
The final ISS Design Challenge series video will soon be released on Mouser’s YouTube channel, and on the program page for Empowering Innovation Together. Until then, check out the original video that shows Imahara and Filo visiting the Made In Space 3D Printing Lab at NASA’s Ames Research Center: