The Challenge | Design by Nature

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


Neuro-Circuit Aims to Detect MMOD damage to TPS and is based off of the functioning of a human nervous system.

The goal of our design is to identify when MMOD damage has occurred to a TPS panel and fix the damage with a high degree of accuracy, efficiency and autonomy.

Inspiration from Nature:

Computers have often been compared to the human brain, and our team ran with this concept. The inspiration from Nature that we used to form our solution is the overall structure of a human nervous system. Rather than use an external free-flying device to “see” an issue, our team decided that an internal system that could “feel” when damage had occurred would be able to provide a greater degree of accuracy and autonomy. Having decided an internal system would work best, we drew inspiration from the way the human body would communicate and address damage that had occurred (ie. getting a cut or a bruise) by creating a “peripheral nervous system” to identify when an issue had occurred and communicate this to the “central nervous system” which can process and make decisions based off of the data obtained from the peripheral nervous system. This central nervous system then communicates this decision back to the peripheral nervous system to begin action.

Proposed Solution:

Our proposed solution is to create a circuit of graphene wiring attached to a central module that contains a Lithium Ion battery and a RFID transmitter on the back of each TPS panel. In it’s normal state, electricity would run through the wiring and send a transmission back to the “central nervous system” or main computer which would contain a 3D model of the ship, with each panel having its own unique identification code so that its transmission can be related to a location on the 3D model. In the case of MMOD impact causing damage, the kinetic energy would transfer through the TPS panel and break the graphene wiring, interrupting the circuit and ceasing the transmission. The central computer would then be alerted by this cease of transmission and would alert the crew, ground team, and a drone of the damage. The computer would send the identification code of the affected panels to the crew, ground team and drone. With this information, the drone would replace the impacted panels, meaning no human effort or time is required.

Challenges faced:

Our team faced challenges during the creation our solution while attempting to find a material suitable for the wiring, as it needed to be extremely conductive and strong, yet sensitive enough to kinetic force to break in the case of an MMOD impact. After some research we decided that graphene would be the best material for this.



SpaceApps is a NASA incubator innovation program.