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Published January 18, 2023
A team of University of Wyoming students is one of seven student teams selected to advance to the second phase of NASA’s 2023 Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams (NExT) engineering design challenge.
Seven undergraduate students in the UW College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, dubbed the UW Space Rangers, designed and built the Lunar Lasso, a device that can install a zip tie during an extravehicular activity in microgravity. Team members are Garrett Post, of Alpine; Austen Williamson and Daniel Wisler, both of Cheyenne; Isaac Siurek, of Broomfield, Colo.; Abigail Hobbs, of Denver, Colo.; and Tyler Brewer and Nicholas Shields, of Littleton, Colo.
“The students did an amazing job putting together a very detailed and thorough proposal, and I am so pleased that their efforts and design have been recognized,” says Kari Strube, an assistant lecturer of mechanical engineering and the team adviser. “Being one of only seven teams accepted to continue nationwide is a huge accomplishment. I am sure that our UW team will continue to do us proud.”
Micro-g NExT encourages undergraduate students to design, build and test a tool or device that addresses an authentic, current space exploration challenge. The experience includes hands-on engineering design, test operations and public outreach. Micro-g NExT provides a unique opportunity for students to contribute to NASA’s missions, as the design challenges are identified by NASA engineers as necessary in space exploration missions.
“Designing the Lunar Lasso was a daunting task, given our quick schedule, but we all put in many hours into coming up with a feasible design,” Siurek says. “Once we had a good plan, it was just a matter of creating the 3D models for each component, which took up most of a week. Overall, it was a very fun experience.”
This year’s challenges focused on astronaut training, Orion crew safety, the International Space Station and lunar surface operations.
The UW Space Rangers participated in the third challenge. The objective was to design and manufacture a device that can install a zip tie during an extravehicular activity in microgravity.
“Our team spent several days brainstorming designs together. There have been many, many iterations along the way, but we feel that each one makes our device better,” Hobbs says. “Watching the Lunar Lasso become real as we began to prototype has been an incredible experience and given us a real-world application.”
A zip tie mechanism in space is mission critical.
“Astronaut safety is a top priority for NASA,” Williamson says. “The current method used to secure cables on the International Space Station caused safety concerns due to it being a fatiguing process leaving sharp exposed metal that could puncture a spacesuit. Our mission is to develop and present a device to NASA that will simplify cable management during extravehicular activity on the International Space Station.”
The Lunar Lasso will be delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston at the beginning of May. Micro-g NExT coordinators and NASA personnel will examine the UW team’s device as well as the other selected teams’ devices.
In May, the UW team will participate in a test readiness review before traveling to Houston to have its project tested by professional divers in the NASA Johnson Space Center Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a simulated microgravity environment.
“I am very excited about Phase 2 of the challenge,” Post says. “The UW Space Rangers team is full of hard-working and creative minds and, while we still have a lot of work to accomplish, I am confident that we will succeed in making a functional and innovative device. We are all thrilled to have the opportunity to test our design at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, and it will surely be unforgettable.”
To learn more about the NASA Micro-g NExT challenge, visit https://microgravityuniversity.jsc.nasa.gov/about-micro-g-next.