As humans contemplate exploration and colonization of non-earth planets, the Martian expedition becomes an important rehearsal for testing technologies to aid prolonged human inhabitance in harsh environments. Sustaining human life in a Martian environment requires the development of new and refinement of existing technologies to harvest water in the form ice and hydrated minerals. Consequently, NASA has established an annual intercollegiate competition for students to design and fabricate a robot capable of autonomously locating, excavating, and depositing an ice simulant in a Martian-simulated environment. The rules and restrictions imposed by NASA will encourage unique and innovative designs from competing teams.
The 2018 NASA Robotic Mining Competition represents the ninth year of the event, and the first year that the Colorado State University RMC team has competed. Participating in the event this year are larger, better-funded, interdisciplinary teams that have competed in past events. Despite the advantages held by many opposing teams, the primary goal of the CSU RMC team is still to create a mining robot that will effectively address each of the scoring criteria imposed by NASA and ultimately win the event. With this goal in mind, as well as the constraints imposed by NASA and other team limitations, a list of objectives was created, and various strategies and processes were implemented to meet these objectives.
Initially, the CSU RMC team was divided into smaller sub-teams to focus on individual robot subsystems. One person was tasked with the design of the chassis subsystem, one person with the controls subsystem, and two people with the excavation subsystem. The excavation subsystem was given more support for two reasons. First, the excavation subsystem is the main emphasis for senior design deliverables. Second, the excavation subsystem has the greatest potential for creative design. As a result of the additional human resources allotted to the excavation subsystems, two different design concepts were produced and modeled: a screw conveyor and a rotating drum. Due to limited time and resources, the models were not fabricated. However, a comparison of the two design models was performed based on how well each model was perceived to satisfy team objectives and NASA-imposed constraints, and the screw conveyor was selected. Our design is easily adjustable which allows for each subsystem to be tested separately and function to our specifications before being integrated together.
In the following years to come, this senior design project will expand into an interdisciplinary project and will be comprised of students in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and potentially computer science.