A group of West Virginia University engineering students have been accepted to NASA’s Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Designs Team program, which challenges undergraduate students to design, build and test a tool or device that addresses a current space exploration problem.

The team’s proposal, “Asteroid Drilling and Anchoring Mechanism: Anchoring Device for Regolith,” is a tool that will help with NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission – a first-ever robotic mission to visit a large near-Earth asteroid, collect a multi-ton boulder from its surface and redirect it into a stable orbit around the moon.

“Due to low gravity on an asteroid, our particular design addresses the need to anchor extravehicular tools to the surface during flight operations,” said Matthew Morrow, a senior mechanical and aerospace engineeringdouble major from Ellicott City, Maryland, who serves as team lead. “Our anchoring device would allow hardware to be placed out of service during an astronaut’s operation without the hassle of stowing the tool.”

Morrow and fellow seniors Sean Lantto of Manassas, Virginia, and Justin Fitzwater of Moorefield, West Virginia, were guided by Thomas Evans, research assistant professor of aerospace engineering. Evans is the research program manager at the West Virginia Robotic Technology Center in Fairmont, which is active in research that supports robotic space operations and supporting technology for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

“This is a unique opportunity for our students to develop professional skills in a NASA program development structure and ultimately test their design,” said Evans. “They will experience how NASA matures and evaluates new technology for future space missions and I’m proud of their accomplishments thus far.”

The trio also leveraged the underground mining experience of WVU’sDepartment of Mining Engineering to design the tool with characteristics similar to underground roof bolting techniques. The design uses a variety of ideas ranging from mechanical anchors used on roof bolts to helical piles used in construction.

The trio will test the tool at Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, May 23-26. The NASA-made goal for the tool is to withstand 10 pounds of pull force for a duration of 15 seconds, but the team hopes to achieve 20 pounds of pull force for 15 seconds.

“In the coming months we will be continuing the design process, purchasing materials and then building the device,” said Morrow. “We are thrilled to have been selected for the program and look forward to testing in Houston.”