Awards & Nominations

Nearby has received the following awards and nominations. Way to go!

Global Nominee

The Challenge | Design by Nature

Design an autonomous free-flyer to inspect a spacecraft for damage from Micro-Meteoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD).

By the Nature, we always can save lifes

Solve the problem that the detection of the dimension and localization of the damages on the Spacecrafts.


By the Nature, we always can save lifes


This project deals of the developing of an autonomous free-flyer, with design inspired on nature, that will calculate the damage on the structure of the spacecraft. This free-flyer emits a Laser at points of the spacecraft’s structure, which will be at a fixed distance from the rocket, and, by the response delay, the software will calculate the size of damage. With size and location of the damages, the search for solution its be more quickly and effective. Than, we will help to keep our astronauts safe and sound on their exploration.


Looking for the problem, after a lot of researches and personal experiences, our team remember of an interesting situation that already do not have scientific explication, and because it, arouses the curiosity of many researchers around the world. That situation is the “Curious trees that do not touch each other”.

Those trees grow up, but when get close of another tree, the growing process stops, and it never grows to the point of touch the “neighbor tree”. Looking for that, out team decides to use this idea, to stay our free-flyer at a non-variable distance for the spacecraft that is the target.

Another inspiration for the project is the Aurea proportion. This proportion is based on the “Golden Number”, the irrational number “phi” (approximated 1.61803398875), that when applied on a rectangle, creates the “Golden Rectangle”, a perfect proportioned geographic form. This magic proportion is encountered on much people, much animals, many plants, in everything on the world.

Well, if Aurea proportion is encountered on the much parts of the more perfect machine of the world, the human, why do not use this on the free-flyer project? Because it, the design of the machine, was inspired and calculated by the proportion of the “Golden Rectangle”.

For the approximation of the free-flyer to the target Spacecraft, the beetle Melanophila acuminata was our inspiration. This beetle, different of the most of the other animals, is attracted by the fired jungle, because it need this ambient, to copulate and to continue the species. Like it, for the security of our astronauts we will go to the Spacecraft that was damaged by Micro-Meteoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD).


3.1 Mechanical Structure

The external structure, built with carbon nanotube films, will have: total weight of the free-flyer is approximated 680,1kg; tTotal price of fabrication of the free-flyer is approximated $160.000,00.

The external part of the free-flyer have: 8 thrusters that uses Liquid Fuel (Brazilian Ethanol); 24 Laser-Reflection Sensors; Semi-Rectangular Protection Structure made of Carbon Nanotube Films; Antenna for communication.

The internal structure part of the free-flyer have: a computer that runs the program that will control the free-flyer; the hardware of the Database; 8 fuel tanks integrated (1 for each one thruster).

3.2 Launch

To get to the space, the free-flyer will be taken by a “Sender Spacecraft” similar that already occurs with Artificial Satellites, and the free-flyer will be stay in a Stable Orbit, that on do not will need to spend fuel to stay there.

3.3 Stay Orbiting

The free-flyer will stay orbiting the Earth, by the Equatorial Line, at an altitude of approximated 300 000 meters, and a velocity of approximated 27 800 km/h. This altitude is about 40 meters under the International Space Station. This is much important to the refuel of the free-flyer, because when the free-flyer is returning to its orbit after a damage detection mission, small “Refuel Spacecrafts” sent from the International Space Station can refuel it.

3.4 Damage Detection Missions

The signal of that has occurred a collision between a Spacecraft, and Micro-Meteoroid or Orbital Debris will be sent for the Spacecraft to the Earth or the free-flyer. If the free-flyer gets this signal after the Earth, it have autonomy to react and go to the point from where this is this signal emitted.

At the moment that the signal is received, the free-flyer does an auto-analysis to define if it have or not conditions of fuel (to go and to get back), and electric energy to get and back to the Spacecraft damaged, and if this analysis detect that really have conditions to do this, the “travel” is started.

It get to the point emitted considering this actual position, the smaller the distance between Spacecraft and Free-Flyer, quickly is the communication between they.

Getting close the Spacecraft, the free-flyer will already know the original project of it, knowing important data such as length, height and surface space. Using it, it will go to the point of more intensity of signal (location of the emitter antenna on the Spacecraft), and from it, make a complete surface sample moving along the surface of the Spacecraft, to pre-programmed points, detecting the distance between the Spacecraft and the free-flyer using the Laser-Reflection Sensors.

After the detection, the own free-flyer can make equations, transform data, and calculate the dimension of the damage. The free-flyer can save too, important data on their own Database, like length, localization, height and depth, if it could be useful.

Finalizing it, the free-flyer starts the “back travel” to the Earth Orbit, and tries to send the final data of the damage by remote signal, always keeping a security save on their own Database. When the free-flyer gets back to the Earth Orbit (approximate 300 meters of height), after the refuel of the International Space Station, it send again the data to the NASA computers on the Earth.

After receive this data, NASA programmers get back a signal to confirm that is the data received. Receiving it, the system of the free-flyer backup the Database, waiting for a new call.

3.5 Sensors

To detect the more intensity of signal, send of the Spacecraft, the sensors will use a distance sensor, that accurately measures the object position in determinate distances. For this project, the free-flyer will be at 15 meters of distance to the Spacecraft. To measure the distance between free-flyer and Spacecraft, to use for the damage calculate, will be used the same type of sensor, the Laser-Reflection Sensors.

3.6 Software

Our software will use the Light velocity, and the standard distance knowed by the Spacecraft Project, to measure the response delay of the laser return when get from the Spacecraft to the receptor of the sensor. Knowing the response delay, the software will calculate the distance equivalent to that time and show the depth of the damage. The software will calculate too the dimension of the damage, (weight and height), and indicate the position (localization) of this damage.

With the weight and depth of every damage position will be possible to calculate the angle of impact of the object. This data will show a damage graphic.


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