New Space and Tech

NASA/NIA Sponsor Student Planetary Rover Challenge

By Keith Cowing
April 8, 2013
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Few NASA projects in recent years have captured the public’s attention like the Mars rovers. Now researchers are hoping the chance to design a future rover may capture university students’ interest.

NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace or NIA in Hampton, Va., have launched a new planetary rover engineering competition called Exploration Robo-Ops Student Challenge. University teams are eligible to win as much as $10,000 for designing and building a planetary rover, then demonstrating its capability to perform a series of tasks at the NASA Johnson Space Center’s Rock Yard in Houston, Texas.

“NASA is excited to sponsor this competition that lets us see students’ creative solutions to real engineering problems,” Pat Troutman, Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) sponsor at NASA’s Langley Research Center. “This challenge gives NASA the benefit of student innovation in robotic operations, but it also gives the students a chance to excite the public and others about their mission.” Graduate and undergraduate engineering teams with a faculty advisor are eligible to compete. Teams are required to submit a project plan proposal by Dec. 15. Up to 10 qualifying teams to be announced Dec. 23 will move on to the building phase of the competition. Those teams’ rovers will then compete against one another at the 2011 RASC-AL Robo-Ops Forum in May next year.
Full details are on the RASC-AL Robo-Ops website:

Teams that qualify will receive $5,000 to partially offset the cost of rover hardware and another $5,000 to cover travel costs to send two students, a faculty advisor and their rover to NASA’s Johnson Space Center for four days. Other team members will remain back at the university to conduct the remote control elements of the competition. Each rover must be able to be controlled from the home university campus through a commercial broadband wireless uplink and negotiate a series of obstacles while accomplishing tasks in the quickest time. Cameras will transmit the competition back to the universities and to the general public

In support of NASA’s interest in engaging the public in its missions, teams also have to include an education and public outreach plan that tries to involve the public in their rover design effort and the overall competition. They’re encouraged to partner with other students, including those with communications and marketing majors, to produce Internet-based social media campaigns and outreach products including videos, blogs and events that demonstrate the concept of participatory exploration for their “mission.”

“By having the participating teams engage their community, fellow students and peers throughout the process of designing and competing their planetary rover, we expect to increase the interest the public’s awareness of NASA’s space exploration missions, ” said Shelley Spears, NIA director of outreach and RASC-AL program director.

For more information about NASA Langley programs, visit:

For more information about the National Institute of Aerospace, visit:

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