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MAE Seniors Win a NASA Lunar Wheel Design Competition

The unique nature of the lunar and Martian terrains creates challenges for any vehicle designed for space exploration. Rovers need to be capable of traversing craters and dunes composed of fine, adhesive regolith, but they also need to perform on rocky, mountainous terrain. NASA has produced several iterations of wheels for space vehicles and continues to explore novel designs to continuously improve traction, mobility and reliability. Part of this effort is the newly established RASC-AL Lunar Wheel Design Competition, sponsored by NASA and organized by the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA).

A team of nine MAE undergraduate students, Ryan Carteris, Amanda Gasparik, Mairel Gonzalez, Sarah Hunter, Marie Ivanco, JaMahl Sapp, Tyler Scrivner, Michael Serra, Luke Twum-Apofo co-advised by Dr. Colin Britcher and Dr. Robert Ash, designed and manufactured four non-pneumatic wheels that won the 2013 roll-off at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. The winning project was part of the capstone senior-design course series, MAE 434W/435, taught by Dr. Stacie Ringleb.

Caption: The nine MAE seniors are smiling for a very good reason, apart from the fact that it is a sunny summer day in Norfolk… They have just won the 2013 NASA RASC-AL Lunar Wheel Design Competition!!

Team members Ryan Carteris, Marie Ivanco, Tyler Scrivner and Sarah Hunter, and Dr. Ash attended the competition event at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. After a full day of competition, driving their lunar-wheeled Gator on JSC’s rockyard simulating lunar and Martian terrains and making a formal presentation to a NASA design review panel, followed by a Q&A session, the Old Dominion MAE senior design team had the honor of being selected as the first place winner of the 2013 competition.

Caption: The Monarch Wheel built with choice of materials with high strength-to-weight ratios, offering low ground pressure and good traction in sand.

The achieved low ground pressure, good traction in sand and choice of materials with high strength-to-weight ratios gave the Monarch Wheel the edge it needed to win the competition. The team members who represented the Old Dominion University and the MAE Department at the competition had the unique opportunity to drive NASA’s Space Exploration Vehicle and to meet the engineers who develop the robonauts put to work in the International Space Station. The team was awarded a $3,000 cash prize.

Caption: Two team members test driving the Monarch Wheel prototypes at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.