Team beat all but two university teams before falling in a tiebreaker to European Space Consortium for high school students
MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn., April 17, 2019 – This past weekend, the Saint Thomas Academy Experimental Vehicle Team placed second overall, and first in the U.S., in the high school division of the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge (NASA news release). The team tied for first with a European Space Consortium for high school students from around the world but then lost the tiebreaker.
In addition to its performance completing the course and mission tasks (video), the team earned:
- Rookie of the Year Award
- Technology Challenge Award (beating all universities and high schools) for the student-designed and built carbon fiber wheels
- Featherweight Award for the lightest high-school rover (117 pounds)
- STEM Engagement Award for its outreach work with Girl Scouts and elementary students
Student Director Joe McMahon ’19 (Lynnhurst) said, "As a rookie team, we needed to quickly figure out the best way to earn the maximum amount of points and still stay under the time limit. We had prepared for every possible obstacle and task, but there was a definite disadvantage seeing it for the first time. We already have a long list of changes for next year!"
The competition saw nearly 100 teams from around the world competing in high school and college divisions. Saint Thomas Academy beat all but two university teams, including Auburn University, Drexel University, Purdue University, University of Houston, University of Memphis, University of Miami and Ohio State University. Team members also had the honor of being interviewed by NASA Astronaut Sunita (Suni) Williams.
About the Competition
The NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge is an engineering design competition in which teams design and assemble a vehicle capable of traversing the simulated surface of another world and facilitating mission-objective tasks such as gathering environmental samples of the extraterrestrial terrain. This is the team’s first time competing in the annual challenge, which is held at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
"Entering a new competition every few years is always exciting,” Team Adviser Caroline Little said. “The students get to experience the engineering design process from beginning to end. Watching their project grow from scratch work on paper to a NASA rover being raced at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is very rewarding for a teacher."
The multi-faceted competition awards points based on the team’s ability to assemble its rover in the allotted time; designing a rover that is lightweight; successfully completing course obstacles; performing tasks throughout the mission; and meeting pre- and post-challenge requirements. The challenge’s weight and time requirements encourage compactness, light weight, high performance and efficiency.
As part of the competition—before their first time on the course—rover entries are tested to fit into a lander equipment bay, a maximum 5 feet by 5 feet by 5 feet in volume.
Teams then navigate their rovers around the .5-mile course with only a virtual six-minute supply of oxygen and a one-minute reserve. They gain points as they progress through all stages of the competition. They earn additional points by returning the results of their mission tasks and finishing without using their oxygen reserve. The course includes a simulated field of asteroid debris—boulders from 5 to 15 inches across; an ancient stream bed with pebbles approximately 6 inches deep; and erosion ruts and crevasses of varying widths and depths.
About Saint Thomas Academy’s Rover
For the competition, EVT designed a rover with a 4-wheel suspension system and a parallelogram design to give more ground clearance. Independent front and rear transmission systems allow the two drivers to decide which of the 8-speed, internally geared hub works best individually at each bend of the course. The house-made, carbon-fiber seats and wheels provide light-weight durability. The 4130 chromoly steel frame has varying diameters and wall thickness to maximize strength and minimize weight. The rover weighs 107 pounds.
The students designed and engineered two lithium-powered task tools for gathering liquid and solid samples from the course. There’s also a mechanical filter that gathers spectrographic analysis of the area being explored. Perceiving the mission-objective tasks as equally important as the rover itself, the students spent as much time designing, prototyping, and testing the task tools as they did the rover.
The team faced many learning opportunities throughout the design and testing process, the most challenging being the fabrication of tread for the carbon-fiber wheels that had to be strong enough to withstand the different surfaces on the rover course. After testing multiple samples, the team chose a two-part urethane rubber with a durometer of 60. Attaching the urethane to the carbon proved to be an even larger problem as nothing adhered to the cured urethane. Applying ingenuity, the students used a foam intermediate pierced with tiny holes and placed it into the urethane before curing. Using an aerospace epoxy, the foam had great adhesion to the carbon.
Through the design process, the team learned to design in Fusion 360, V-Carve Pro, CoralDraw and TinkerCAD, and used the laser cutter to make templates and parts, 3D printers for rapid prototyping, a 3-axis mill for making molds, a plasma cutter for metal parts, and a TIG welder to assemble the 4130 Chromoly steel tubing for the rover’s frame.
From September 2018 through March 1, 2019, the 15-student team clocked more than 1,400 hours on the NASA Rover – all outside of class time. Student Director McMahon alone has worked on the project more than 140 hours since September.
Team members include:
Wil Applebaum ’21– Task Manager
Sam Cunniff ’19 – Wheel Design
Joe D’Agostino ’20 – Public Relations
Michael Hankee ’20 - Frame
Peter Holmes ’19 – CAD
Will Hoppe ’21 – Task Manager
Nicholas Kettler ’20 – Fabrication
Luke Kolar ’19 – Male Rover Pilot (MRP)
Yong Jae Lee ’20 – Fabrication
Murphy Lynch ’20 – Fabrication
Joe McMahon ’19 – Student Director
Lucas Montpetit ’19 – Mechanical Director
Daniel Staelgraeve ’21 – Task Manager
Jenna Westlake ’20 – Female Rover Pilot (FRP)
Robbie Wolfe ’19 – Wheel Design
Team sponsors include: Power Systems Research, Saint Thomas Academy and Express Composites.
About the Experimental Vehicle Team
The Experimental Vehicle Team is a co-curricular program that teaches budding engineers real-life problem-solving skills. Founded in 1997 as the Supermileage Team, past Experimental Vehicle Teams have built multiple solar vehicles, a safer electric motorcycle for urban commuting, a one-person car that got more than 1,300 mpg and an electric car that traveled 50 miles on two car batteries. The team has won 15 national championships, one international championship and set numerous national records in its history.