NDSU Team Takes Third in NASA Competition

Chris Benson (left) and Rupert Cooper take their rover over a high curb.

When we are young we are often told to “shoot for the stars.” Four mechanical engineering students from North Dakota State spent their senior year doing just that.

For their senior design project Alexis Barton, Christopher Benson, Rupert Cooper and Austin Karst designed and fabricated a rover for NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge.

The challenge was to design and build a human-powered rover to tackle a course with terrain that simulates potential conditions on Mars. The team did this admirably, capturing third place behind teams from Purdue and Rhode Island from a pool of 34 different universities competing.

“It was a great opportunity to really apply some of the stuff you learn in books,” said Rupert Cooper. “It was an unexpected challenge, but a great learning experience.”

The team had to overcome design challenges, such as having tires that weren’t pneumatic, since pneumatic tires can’t be used in space travel.

“We couldn’t use any commercial components for the tires, and they had to be very strong,” said Cooper, “so we went back and forth with simulations and materials and processes to produce something that would function well.”

The team eventually created a composite tire made of two kinds of urethane that could flex to take on multiple kinds of terrain. The wheel design was recognized as the best in the competition and won the team 1000 dollars for the Technology Challenge Award. They also won 250 dollars for being the most improved team from past years—the prize money will go back to the department, and hopefully back into future teams that will compete in competitions down the road.

Additionally, the team had to overcome some issues regarding fabrication.

“We actually broke a cog before leaving for the competition — we didn’t get everything put together until about two hours before we left for Alabama,” Christopher Benson noted.

All of the hard work paid off though. “It was brutal,” Cooper notes, “there were teams that lost wheels, had drivetrains splinter, steering just collapsed for some.”

“It was very physically demanding for the rover,” Benson chimed in, “but ours performed well. We took it over terrain that had destroyed the design NDSU had last year. Its performance was what you might call ‘composed,’ compared to some of the other rovers out there.”

Future teams will be able to build off of this year’s design. “So look forward to teams in the future. Hopefully they will be able to utilize some of the things we learned and perform even better.”

Congratulations to the team on their stellar performance — and best of luck in the future.

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