UMR Lunar Miners to take giant leap with robot

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On May 7, 2007

A new design team at the University of Missouri-Rolla will compete for a total of $250,000 on May 12 by putting its autonomous robot in a head-to-head competition against seven other excavators from the United States and Canada.

The 2007 Regolith Excavation Challenge, held in Santa Maria, Calif., is designed to promote the development of mechanical designs to excavate lunar regolith simulant or “moon dirt.” Simulated lunar soil is highly compacted, making it harder to excavate than terrestrial soils, says team co-leader Joel Logue of Quincy, Ill., a senior in electrical engineering and engineering management.

“Eight teams have built systems to excavate the dirt and deliver it to a collector,” Logue explains. “Teams will be challenged to excavate and deliver as much regolith as possible in 30 minutes. The $250,000 prize will go to the winning teams excavating the most regolith above 330 pounds. The top three teams will receive $125,000, $75,000 and $50,000, respectively.”

Each excavator must weigh less than 85 pounds and be powered by 30 watts of power. The Lunar Miners have designed a robot that uses two conveyors.

“One has a number of scoops on it to excavate regolith,” Logue says. “The other delivers the excavated regolith to a collector. Excavation by a conveyor was found most energy effective after evaluating several other possible designs.”

The sixth annual NASA Centennial Challenge is sponsored by the California Space Education and Workforce Institute and co-hosted by the California Space Authority. The UMR team is supported by the university’s Academy of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineers.

Dr. Mehdi Ferdowsi, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMR, serves as the team’s advisor. Team members include:

  • Laura Bartz of St. Peters, Mo., a senior in electrical engineering
  • Katie Fritts of Kansas City, Mo., a freshman in mechanical engineering
  • Matt Hercules of Shelbina, Mo., a senior in computer science
  • Masafumi Iai of Tokyo, Japan, a Ph.D. student in geological engineering
  • Chris Jacobson of St. Charles, Mo., who earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from UMR in 2006
  • Ezra Rendall of Rolla, Mo., a senior in mechanical engineering
  • Joel Logue of Quincy, Ill., a senior in electrical engineering and engineering management
  • Nick Williams of O’Fallon, Mo., a freshman in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering


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On May 7, 2007. Posted in News