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Engineering team excels at NASA rover challenge

A team of four NDSU mechanical engineering students took third place in the University Division of NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge April 8-9 at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The competition attracted 91 teams from around the world. 

The challenge requires students to design rovers that can maneuver through an obstacle course simulating the terrain potentially found on distant planets, asteroids or moons. The course was shaped to resemble craters, basins, boulders and other lunar- or Martian-themed obstacles. The NDSU team finished the course in seven minutes. The first place team from Purdue University completed it in 6:07.

The team also won the University Division’s Most Improved Award and the Technology Challenge Award for wheel design and fabrication.

This year’s event required teams to design and fabricate their own wheels. Any component used to contact the course surface for traction and mobility had to be original. The team modeled their design after the Tweel, an airless tire concept that doesn’t flatten and can have tread specialized for a variety of surfaces.

NDSU student Alexis Barton said the team began designing the vehicle in October. “It involved a lot of materials research and design ideas,” she said. “We ran a lot of analysis. We didn’t go the simple route on the design.”

The team included Barton, Rupert Cooper, Christopher Benson and Austin Karst. All are seniors majoring in mechanical engineering and the project was their senior design project. Barton said the competition challenged the team to apply the skills learned in the classroom.

Ghodrat Karami, professor of mechanical engineering, is the team’s adviser.

The Rover Challenge highlights NASA’s goals for future exploration to Mars and beyond. The event challenges students to solve engineering problems while highlighting NASA’s commitment to inspiring new generations of scientists, engineers and explorers.

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