Does anybody know anything about handrail clamps? PDM/Engineering Community GrabCAD just announced that they are doing a Design Challenge with NASA, asking the World to come up with a Handrail Clamp Assembly that will be 3D Printed on the ISS for use.

Yes! The challenge is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (well, hopefully not) to bust out your CAD skills to play a critical role in helping Humanity expand into the stars. At least, from a Handrail Clamp perspective, which serves many critical roles, such as helping many Spacefarers hold steady while playing space-chess. We don’t need anymore George Clooney’s floating out into the depths of space, that’s for sure.

The winning design isn’t supposed to be a copy of NASA’s existing Handrail Clamp Assembly (HCA), but rather a specially-considered design that uses Made-in-Space’s 3D Printer. In addition, the competition rules specify that the design leverages all of the fabrication abilities of 3D Printing to make it as strong as possible (125lb ‘kick load’).

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Testing this on the station is the first step toward creating a working “machine shop” in space. This capability may decrease cost and risk on the station, which will be critical when space explorers venture far from Earth and will create an on-demand supply chain for needed tools and parts. Long-term missions would benefit greatly from onboard manufacturing capabilities. Data and experience gathered in this demonstration will improve future 3-D manufacturing technology and equipment for the space program, allowing a greater degree of autonomy and flexibility for astronauts.

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NASA stated that not only is the part to be used functionally, but it will be studied to see how AM parts stand up to interstellar-wear. This is truly a ‘Design for Space-Manufacturing’ assignment, one that hasn’t been done in a while. In one sense, it’s a hack, almost in the spirit of the most famous space-hack of all-time, when NASA managed to make a square peg fit into a round hole:

It will be interesting to see where this competition goes and if the winning design goes above and beyond the specs required (First prize is $1000, by the way). NASA is upfront about the ultimate goal.

It seems that they want to have neater hacks to problems than what they’ve had to do without a spare 3D Printer.

Due date is March 17, 2015. Get on it while you still can!