MADISON (WKOW) -- A group of about a dozen UW-Madison undergrads will take the next two semesters to design, build and test an inflatable room for NASA.
The team of students come from majors all across the university and will compete against similar teams at Oklahoma State University and the University of Maryland.
Each team will be given $48,000 to design, build and test an inflatable habitat to be used with existing NASA prototypes. The design would offer a space crew with more livable room.
The challenge is part of the first NASA and National Space Grant Foundation inflatable loft competition. All three teams will compete at NASA's Johnson Space Center as part of the first eXploration Habitat Academic Innovation Competition (X-Hab).
The prototype will be about four meters tall and five meters in diameter and must be able to easily travel through space with astronauts and be inflated at the mission destination. Mission destinations include orbiting Earth, the Moon or Mars. When the astronauts prepare to return to Earth, the habitat can either be deflated or simply released into space.
The winning team will receive an extra $10,000 to cover costs for month long testing with NASA.
Frederick Elder, UW-Madison adjunct professor of mechanical engineering and engineering physics, will lead a team of a dozen students in a two-semester course dedicated to the competition. The first semester will give students time to design the prototype and during the second semester students will build a full-size prototype. Students on the team include engineering mechanics and astronautics, business, mechanical engineering and interior design majors.
Elder says students initiated the plan to take part in the competition.
"They found the competition and did the work to enter," says Elder. "It's a great opportunity for them to learn NASA procedures and standards and merge together NASA's technological history with the next generation of workers."
Nathan Wong is one of the students who approached Elder about the project. The senior engineering mechanics and astronautics has a passion for space exploration. He found the competition announcement on Twitter in July and quickly put together a team to write a proposal outlining design, budget, outreach, class integration, materials and recruiting.
"This is a great opportunity for a NASA project to come to Wisconsin - and even better is the chance for us to design something useful for NASA," says Wong. "To build and test a prototype in nine months will be a challenge, but we're hoping to succeed by drawing from all over the university and outside as well."
Wong hopes to own his own company that builds habitats and rockets to increase human space exploration.
The UW-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) will give the students financial support to connect with other in-house experts and a private systems engineer from Bjorksten | bit 7.
"This project will allow us to improve upon an already excellent educational design course model, specifically in the area of systems engineering, while attracting a broad range of organizations," says Fred Best, SSEC technical director. "I think this group of students is going to be very successful and I hope to see more collaboration like this in the future."
The team will also have support from UW-Madison departments of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Physics, the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, Orbitec and Boeing.
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