NASA competition seeks students worldwide to create space rovers

30 Nov 2013

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). Image via NASA

US space agency NASA is inviting second-level and college student teams worldwide to create a vehicle that can travel across the simulated surface of another world and contribute to the design of NASA’s next-generation space systems.

The NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge is designed to engage students in the next phase of human space exploration by having them design, build and test technologies that enable vehicles to perform in various environments.

The teams will be timed, ranked and scored based on design, safety and how well their vehicles travel across the set course. NASA will use the teams’ results to help it develop and meet its own future space exploration goals, said Rocky Lind, who manages education and outreach efforts in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.

“We designed this engineering challenge to align with NASA’s commitment of sending humans to Mars by the 2030s,” Lind said.

NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge course

The planned course for the competition will require teams’ vehicles to cross a terrain that includes a simulated field of asteroid debris, with boulders from 5-15 inches across; an ancient stream bed with pebbles about 6 inches deep; and erosion ruts and crevasses in varying widths and depths. A full description of the obstacles and qualifications for vehicle designs can be found at the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge website.

“The obstacles around the course will mimic some of the real terrain challenges of solar system exploration, so students must design robust and durable rovers with the traction to scale obstacles and meet other challenges,” said Tammy Rowan, manager of the academic affairs office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Alabama.

The culminating event of the NASA rover competition is scheduled for 10-12 April at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, also in Huntsville. Registration for the competition closes on 10 January for international teams, and on 7 February for US teams. Prizes will be awarded in several categories.

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic