UW student team first from Wyoming to participate in NASA design challenge | New

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August 5, 2022

Five UW undergraduate students, dubbed the Wyoming Space Wranglers, designed and built the Cowboy Claw, a reusable lunar surface anchor device. The engineering student team was the first from Wyoming to be selected and participate in NASA’s 2022 Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams (NExT) engineering design challenge. (Photo by Wyoming Space Wranglers)

A team of students from the University of Wyoming was the first from Wyoming to be selected and participate in NASA’s 2022 Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams (NExT) Engineering Design Challenge.

Five undergraduate students from the UW College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, dubbed the Wyoming Space Wranglers, designed and built the Cowboy Claw, a reusable lunar surface anchor device. The team members were Cameron Ball, of Colorado Springs, Colorado; Forrest Bucholz, of Alpine; Reese Romero, of Cody; Leaves of James, from Powell; and Daniel Wenger, of Vale, Oregon.

“We were thrilled to learn that we had been accepted for the Micro-g NExT challenge,” says Sheets, who graduated this spring. “After several months of deliberation, NASA has released the accepted teams in the form of a acceptance video. We were very happy to hear our name called. We were selected alongside other top schools in the country, which had much larger teams than ours.

Micro-g NExT encourages undergraduate students to design, build, and test a tool or device that addresses an authentic, current space exploration challenge. Experience includes hands-on engineering design, test operations, and public outreach. Micro-g NExT provides a unique opportunity for students to contribute to NASA missions, as design challenges are identified by NASA engineers as necessary in space exploration missions.

“The challenge was an opportunity to invent something new,” says Sheets. “It was really a great opportunity to tinker.”

Wenger says his favorite part of the experience was rapid prototyping and testing.

“It’s one thing to spend a lot of time designing a project on paper and building it once, but we got a chance to try a lot of different ideas and test new pieces every day,” says- he. “I think we were able to get a lot of creativity.”

This year’s challenges focused on the lunar surface extravehicular activity (EVA) operations of Artemis, NASA’s lunar exploration program. The three challenges were to design an EVA sample size location calibration marker; an EVA sample bag and dispenser; and a reusable lunar surface anchor device.

The Wyoming Space Wranglers participated in the third challenge. The goal was to design and manufacture an anchoring mechanism capable of providing holding force on a variety of objects with different types of surfaces.

diver using claw mechanism underwater

A diver tests the Cowboy Claw in NASA’s Johnson Space Center Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. (Microg NEXT Photo)

“Our main design inspirations were the dexterity and versatility of the human hand,” says Sheets. “Inside the human hand, joints of joints are known as compliant mechanisms. They bend to achieve a goal, then return to their original shape. We mimicked this by creating gaskets from a 3D printed thermoplastic polyurethane that is available at the University of Wyoming Innovation Wyrkshop. These joints, combined with stainless steel tendons, allowed our device to maintain a strong grip on a variety of rocks. Our team used these two key design aspects to create a lightweight, reusable, durable and non-penetrating device. »

The importance of a space anchor mechanism is mission critical.

“The Cowboy Claw is intended to allow astronauts to tether themselves, their equipment, or other EVA devices to the lunar surface,” says Ball. “A quickly established anchor point allows astronauts to conduct their research in complete safety. Additionally, anchor devices, such as ours, can be applied to other future manned or unmanned space exploration efforts to Mars and beyond. Deepening humanity’s understanding of the lunar environment will help us better understand our world and help us prepare for the future planets that lie ahead.

The Cowboy Claw was delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston at the end of May. Micro-g NExT coordinators and NASA staff reviewed the UW team’s device as well as devices from other selected teams.

“We felt a combination of excitement, stress, and nervousness throughout the challenge process,” says Sheets. “The development schedule for this device was extremely fast, so we had to manufacture the device quickly and test it quickly. This led to a lot of concerns about whether our idea would work or not. It ended up exceeding our expectations.

In June, the UW team participated in a test readiness review before traveling to Houston to have their project tested by professional divers at the Johnson Space Center Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) in the NASA, a simulated microgravity environment.

“It was great fun watching the divers test our device in the NBL, and the testing experience was very authentic,” says Sheets. “Our device first had to pass a security check to make sure no one was injured. Then we were able to brief the diver with some instructions before use.

When it came time to test the Cowboy Claw, the Wyoming Space Wranglers were allowed to sit in a control room and oversee the test.

“One of our team members was cleared to radio the diver to give him instructions, and all of this was broadcast to the rest of the NBL schools,” Sheets says. “Perhaps the most fun was watching the performance of other schools’ devices. Some schools had designs quite similar to ours, and other teams went in totally different directions. Of course, we were thrilled to see the Cowboy Claw hold its own against devices from big, well-known institutions.

Ball, who graduated in May, will begin his career at Lockheed Martin in Colorado, where he will work in the company’s space division. He says he would love to see other UW students be part of the Micro-g NExT experience.

“I hope future UW senior design teams or students in some kind of ‘NASA challenge club’ will follow in our footsteps,” Ball said.

To learn more about NASA’s Micro-g NExT Challenge, visit https://microgravityuniversity.jsc.nasa.gov/about-micro-g-next.


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