Allied Electronics & Automation is sponsoring Colorado State University’s (CSU's) NASA Robotic Mining Competition (RMC) Team in the 2022 LUNABOTICS competition, providing the team with a monetary grant and access to critical components as well as expert advice from Allied’s engineering team. This year marks Allied’s fifth consecutive year of support for the team’s participation in the annual LUNABOTICS competition, a NASA Artemis Student Challenge designed to educate college students in the NASA Systems Engineering process, cultivate a workforce optimized for high-tech industries including terrestrial and extraterrestrial mining and construction and provide NASA with innovative prototype solutions to the many challenges inherent in future Artemis missions, which are intended to establish the first long-term presence on the moon and leverage the knowledge acquired there to send the first astronauts to Mars.
The LUNABOTICS competition is a comprehensive, multi-semester, university-level engineering exercise that allows students to gain practical experience in the full engineering lifecycle process spanning concept development to system closeout and supports NASA’s Moon to Mars trajectory by requiring teams to participate in four events. The rules for the LUNABOTICS competition evolve annually to account for new NASA mission objectives and advances in commercially available technology, but each year participating teams use the NASA Systems Engineering process to design, construct and compete a prototype robot devised to mine icy regolith beneath a layer of “lunar” sand in a simulated off-world mining mission. The other three events teams compete in include performing public outreach targeting underserved, underrepresented grade K – 12 students in their communities and submitting a public outreach project report detailing their efforts, submitting a project management plan and a systems engineering paper and presenting their robot and their design philosophy at the competition.
“Allied is a proud proponent of STEM education and technological innovation and is honored to have the opportunity to foster tomorrow’s high-tech workforce by contributing to technical and professional development programs,” said Ken Bradley, president of Allied Electronics and Automation Americas. “Sponsoring CSU’s NASA Robotic Mining Competition Team in the LUNABOTICS competition is an effective and exciting way for us to support the future leaders of high-technology industries, encourage sustainable innovation and enhance the intellectual and economic strength of the American electronics industry. We are very excited to see how this year’s team employs our components, and we wish them the very best of luck in this year’s on-site event.”
CSU’s NASA RMC Team hails from the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering and has spent more than four years building and refining a robotic vehicle designed to ruggedly withstand harsh moon mining operations and perform efficient and effective autonomous operations, including geolocating itself without the aid of GPS, avoiding obstacles, extracting material from the lunar surface, and transporting it to an official deposit point. Recent robotic refinements include improving the vehicle’s mechanical systems, upgrading its sensors and autonomy software, and replacing its previous auger mining system with a system of buckets on a ladder belt that scoop material from the ground and deposit it into a storage container that actuates like a dump truck.
“Our NASA Project Management Plan placed third in October 2021, earning us a spot in the on-site mining competition, which we’re all very excited about. The annual LUNABOTICS competition requires an immense amount of work in addition to significant expense, so we are incredibly grateful to Allied for its continued support of our team,” said Carissa Vos, a senior student and project manager for CSU’s NASA Robotic Mining Competition Team. “We completed the final robot design in CAD and began manufacturing all the parts this January. In March, we’ll assemble our robot using the parts we’ve manufactured, as well as components including hinges, hooks and rubber edging provided by Allied Electronics, and imbue it with basic teleoperated functionality via remote control. On April 22, we’ll deliver our systems engineering and outreach papers, presentation and demonstration during CSU’s Engineering Days (E Days) event and in May we’ll perform an autonomy overview and robot chassis testing prior to the on-site competition.”
“The on-site mining competition will consist of two 15-minute runs in a simulated lunar environment with a start zone, obstacle region and excavation zone featuring gravel situated 30 centimeters below the sand to represent icy regolith. Our plan is to maximize our points by maximizing the amount of regolith we mine in the excavation area, efficiently navigating the arena’s obstacles and effectively depositing our mined materials in the collection sieve,” Vos said.
Dr. Jianguo Zhao, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Technical Advisor for the NASA RMC Team, added: “The LUNABOTICS competition teaches students to employ the NASA Systems Engineering process, which is utilized in many high-tech industries, and challenges students to devise and develop solutions to the same problems that NASA engineers are actively working on, which is especially empowering since NASA uses this competition to gather and evaluate design and operational data for future robotic excavators and builders and identify clever solutions to the many challenges inherent in future Artemis missions. But advances in off-world mining and construction also offer new possibilities for the same activities here on Earth. So, the skills students develop by participating in the LUNABOTICS competition over a series of semesters directly contribute to their professional development and career opportunities. Allied’s generous monetary grant and donation of both components and expertise is key to providing our students with access to this unique educational and professional development opportunity, and all of us in the department and on the team are grateful for Allied’s continued support.”
This year’s LUNABOTICS Artemis Student Challenge Robotic Mining Competition will take place at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 22–27. Teams will be split into two groups that will each have three days to compete. The competition will culminate in two on-site mining runs and awards will be conferred for excellence demonstrated throughout the competition. Teams are competing to win the Phase I Design It Challenge, Efficient Use of Communications Power Award, Judges’ Innovation Award, six Caterpillar Autonomy Awards, three Systems Engineering Paper Awards, a Systems Engineering Leaps and Bounds Award, three Presentation and Demonstration Awards, three Outreach Project Report Awards, three Robotic On-Site Mining Awards, and the Joe Kosmo Award for Excellence. Prizes are awarded in the form of scholarships ranging from $250 to $5,000.