Student-designed lunar sample collection system test successful


Debra Levey Larson

divers demonstrating UIUC team's tool
Diver at JSC's Neutral Buoyancy Lab pool demonstrate UIUC team's tool.

In early June, a team of undergraduate students traveled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The trip’s purpose was for the students to witness the lunar sample collection bag system they designed demonstrated by divers in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab pool.

A video of the divers testing Illinois’ entry is viewable on the Department of Aerospace Engineering’s YouTube channel, courtesy of NASA.

“The Illinois project team of this year’s NASA Micro-G NeXt challenge was demonstrated successfully,” said Michael Lembeck, aerospace engineering professor and director of the Laboratory for Advanced Space Systems at Illinois.

The team spent this past year examining the Apollo system design, designing and prototyping their own hardware, getting feedback from Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, and writing their test plans and procedures leading up to the demonstration.

Harriet Hunt hands her team's lunar sample collection bag system to a diver.
Harriet Hunt hands her team's lunar sample collection bag system to a diver.

“We were the second team to be tested and the dispenser and bags worked extremely well in the pool,” Lembeck said. “The test diver relayed that it was easy to use and he enjoyed trying out the tool. He was able to collect two rock samples and one sand sample in an eight-minute period with no major issues.”

The team’s project manager was Harriet Hunt, B.S. ’22. She served as a sub-team lead for another project in 2019.

“I learned so much about how to lead a technical project and how to handle an engineering challenge through a different lens,” Hunt said. “Following the testing week at the NBL we learned that our tool will be on display in an Artemis exhibit in downtown Houston for six months beginning in August which is really exciting for the team. I couldn’t be more proud of my members.”

Micrognext team members
Left to right: Alex Brouillette, Sara McCarthy, Veronica Leto, and Harriet Hunt.

Hunt is currently an intern at Astranis as a mission operations engineer. In August, she will begin working full time for KBR at NASA’s Johnson Space Center as an International Space Station flight controller.

In addition to Hunt, team members included Veronica Leto, who also graduated in May, aerospace engineering sophomore Sara McCarthy, and first year electrical and computer engineering student Alex Brouillette.

Micro g NExT is one of the student project teams in UIUC's Illinois Space Society, which is the University of Illinois chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.