Made by College Seniors, These Seven Products Give Us a Glimpse Into the Future

Engineering students at universities across the country took these projects from sketch to reality in one year

University of Vermont engineering student Joseph Maser gazes down at the prototype of the inflatable airlock for space stations and vehicles that he and three other students built. (Photo courtesy of Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist)
smithsonianmag.com

Inflatable Airlock - University of Vermont

Student Team: Maggie Donovan, John Draper, Juan Pablo Lattanzio Guerreiro and Joseph Maser

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Darren Hitt

Selected by NASA as part of its X-Hab Challenge, University of Vermont’s student team came up with a design to reduce the weight and improve the versatility of a critical space entry: the airlock. This conduit is necessary to enter and exit space stations, vehicles and in the future, lunar or Martian bases. The team’s design transforms the current rigid metal structures into a compact package, deployed by inflating “air beams” that push the airlock out into a semi-rigid structure—think extraterrestrial bouncy castle.

“In space, volume and weight are important design constraints, so this needed to be lightweight,” says project adviser Darren Hitt. NASA advisers consulted on the design and development of the project from its inception. A future iteration, Hitt says, may be made with a self-healing skin that can withstand punctures by micrometeroids.

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