CEID Fellows Take Their Asteroid Sampler To NASA

As you might imagine, designing an apparatus for sampling asteroids in a microgravity environment is no easy trick.

So it's no small feat that Michael Cruciger and Nafeesa Khan, who both graduated in May, were selected to demonstrate their trigger-actuated rock sampler in NASA’s Micro-g NExT program. From Houston, the team reported Tuesday, Aug. 4, that the TARS was a tremendous success.

"It was able to break, collect, and properly contain all three rock samples of various hardness within the first half of the diving session. To fill up the last half, we asked the diver to take it to the hardest rock in the pool. TARS 4 EVA cracked it in half on the second strike," Cruciger wrote in an email. 

"At the end of our test, the NBL Technical Test Manager told us, 'It was definitely the most successful chipper we've seen.'" The two students have worked on the project as part of their participation in the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design summer fellowship. They began work on it as part of the Yale Drop Team, a student group that focuses on zero-gravity research.

Cruciger and Khan presented their device this week at the CEID Summer Fellowship Final Presentations. They’ll be one of 19 teams taking part in the NASA program, which challenges students to work in teams to design and build prototypes of spacewalking tools to be used by astronauts for spacewalk training. As part of the program’s requirements, the microgravity rock sampler must be usable with one hand, and by either right-or left-handed people. It must also weigh less than 15 pounds so astronauts can easily use it in training, and be able to prevent contamination among rock samples. 

Before they travel to Houston, Khan and Cruciger said they need to do more underwater testing on the device, which they’ve named TARS 4 EVA (Trigger-Actuated Rock Sampler for Extravehicular Activity).

As part of the Micro-g NExT event, Kruciger and Khan will demonstrate their device inside the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, or NBL, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. It’s a 6.2-million-gallon indoor pool designed to simulate a microgravity environment used by astronauts training in advance of their assigned space missions.

At their presentation in CEID, Khan and Cruciger demonstrated the apparatus, chipping off rock from a slab. They still have to attach the system for containing the rocks. For this, they tried a number of variations before settling on a solution inspired by a laundry hamper.

“It’s bendable, but maintains its shape,” Khan said.

Cruciger said it drove home how important – and painstaking – design can be for this kind of project.

“Every single component had to be designed, and we would spend a week on one small part to make it perfectly,” he said. It also helped that they worked on the project at CEID, Khan said, where there was plenty of support.

“We learned that we needed to take a lot of advice early from a diverse group,” she said. “Without all their different backgrounds and perspectives, this wouldn't have happened.”