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Mission: NASA’s Robotic Mining Competition

After a two-year absence, the College of Engineering will be participating in NASA’s Robotic Mining Competition.

Inspired by recent discoveries during missions to Mars, such as with the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover named “Curiosity,” NASA’s Robotic Mining Competition consists of university-level students who must design and build a mining robot that can traverse simulated Martian terrain. The mining robot must then excavate the regolith (layer of loose rock resting on bedrock) simulant and deposit the excavated mass into a collector bin.

This competition simulates an off-world, in situ resource mining mission. The complexities of the challenge include the abrasive characteristics of the regolith simulant, the weight and size limitations of the mining robot, and the ability to tele-operate it from a remote mission control center.

The student team undertaking this challenge will be led by Danielle Coogan ’18, mechanical engineering major and treasurer of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). Coogan, in regards to the challenges of the project, explains that “with classes, homework, tests and NASA’s timeline for the project, setting aside enough time to work on the robot can be difficult, but our team is very motivated and considers it a priority.”

“Aside from the technical and practical skills learned from projects such as these, project management is a huge part of the process of designing the robot,” Coogan says. Consisting of students studying everything from mechanical engineering to physics to music, the project is a cross-disciplinary effort.

Not only do the students benefit from the competition by gaining experience and technical skills, but NASA also benefits by encouraging the development of innovative robotic excavation concepts. These may result in clever ideas and solutions that could be applied to an actual excavation device and/or payload on an in situ resource utilization (ISRU) mission.

Coogan, who arrived at the University of Miami as an undeclared engineering major, advises future freshman to not shy away from engineering if they are unsure which path to take. She says, “As a freshman, I made sure I was really involved and stayed informed by talking to professors and teachers’ assistants. Now, I am doing something I really like. I love NASA and space exploration; it is a very exciting field.”