The international University Rover Challenge (URC) was RSX’s first mission. Our mission was dubbed MRSX-1, and on a shoe-string budget, we built our pride and glory, Origin, and even won first place at CSii’s Innovation Nation Robotics Competition.
Currently, we are working very hard on our supremely ambitious next-gen rover. The aim of the URC is to design and build the next generation of Mars rovers that will one day work alongside human explorers in the field. The competition takes place at the Mars Desert Research Station in Hanksville, Utah, and is organized by the Mars Society every year. Teams from several countries design and build rovers to compete in 5 tasks, reflective of what may be required of a rover on a real Martian expedition.
We traveled down to the barren, scorching, and desolate desert in Utah to test our rover (and unexpectedly, ourselves) in an array of the most challenging tasks we have ever experienced. Not only was the year-long experience an incredible engineering lesson and personal development opportunity unlike anything we could have experienced in a classroom, the insight we gained into the uncertainty, excitement, and mission critical nature encapsulated in a simulated space mission is sure to be called upon when we participate in real ones – likely not to long from now. The five tasks include the following:
Sample Return Task: Teams need to select multiple sites of biological interest within a 0.5km radius of their base, and collect and return sub-surface samples. Astronaut Assistance Task: Given approximate GPS coordinates, teams will be required to deliver multiple supply containers to simulated astronauts in the field as quickly as possible. Equipment Servicing Task: The rover must perform tasks such as measuring voltage across exposed terminals, cleaning a solar panel, reading meters, pushing buttons & flipping switches. Terrain Traversing Task: Rovers will be required to traverse a variety of difficult terrains as part of an engineering field test of the ruggedness and route-finding ability of the rovers. Presentation Task: Teams will prepare and deliver a presentation to the URC judges describing their team, rover design and functionality.
The CanSat competition is a design-build-fly competition held in Burkett, Texas, that provides teams with an opportunity to experience the design life-cycle of an aerospace system. The CanSat competition is designed to reflect a typical aerospace program on a small scale and includes all aspects of an aerospace program from the preliminary design review to post mission review. 2014-2015 will mark the first year that RSX prepares for, and participates in the CanSat competition.
The 2015 mission simulates a Science Vehicle traveling through a planetary atmosphere sampling the atmospheric composition during descent. The overall CanSat system is composed of two primary components, a Science Vehicle and a re-entry Container that protects the vehicle during ascent, “near-apogee” deployment from the rocket and initial re-entry/descent.
When initially deployed from the rocket, the re-entry Container shall descend via parachute with the Science Vehicle secured within the Container. At any desired point after the initial deployment from the rocket the Container and Science Vehicle shall separate and the Science Vehicle will begin normal operations. When the Science Vehicle is released from the Container, it shall use passive helicopter/auto-gyro recovery method reduce its descent rate to less than 10 meters/second. The Science Vehicle must stabilize and descend properly at a minimum altitude of 300 meters.
During descent, the Science Vehicle shall record video in the nadir (Earth pointing) direction until it lands. The video camera must be stabilized in real time during descent so that the video image of the ground is not spinning. The Science Vehicle shall collect telemetry data during descent which includes; altitude based on barometric air pressure, outside air temperature, inside temperature, flight software state, stabilization parameters, battery voltage, and bonus telemetry. The data shall be transmitted at a 1 Hz rate to a ground station. The Science Vehicle shall hold one large raw hen’s egg and protect it from breaking during the mission.
Needless to say, sending something into orbit is still a bit of a challenge for us, but we’re determined to stay true to our motto. So what’s the next best thing? How does sending our own payload to over 100,000 feet sound? That’s exactly what the HAB (High Altitude Balloon) project is all about. What started as a little side project during the summer of 2014 has turned into an incredibly ambitious and exciting endeavour.
Our ultimate goal is to deploy an optimized glider from an incredibly high altitude, and have it automatically return to a preset location. Why? Well, the challenging thing about high altitude balloon payloads is that they end up landing hundreds of kilometers away from their starting point. And more often than not, a full blown orbital satellite mission isn’t necessary to do useful science. How cool would it be to send off your experiment, and have it land within reach a couple of hours later?
After launching our first successful mission already (PPOPS-1), we learned a lot about the science, engineering, and logistics behind balloon missions. We’re building everything from scratch – from our ground station chase/telemetry software and the payload’s firmware to electronics integrations (including basic atmospheric sensors) and mechanical actuation mechanisms to test performannce in trying high altitude environments.
Got an experiment you’d like to fly on our next mission? Get in touch with us, we’d love to collaborate.
SEEK! is an annual competition organized by Robotics for Space Exploration dedicated to helping students gain practical experience with space engineering and technologies.
SEEK! is planned to be one full day of learning, building, and competing. Teams of 3 students from any discipline or year are invited to sign up (no prior experience required/necessary/expected). We recommend assigning three roles: mechanical, electrical, programming. Past competitions have challenged competitors to build robots to perform a simulated search-and-rescue mission, navigate hazardous terrain and retrieve precious minerals.
Whether you are a student wanting to join, a potential sponsor, or martian, we'd love to hear from you! The best way to get in touch is email