The technology college students showcased in a Colorado School of Mines parking lot June 2-3 could one day be on the moon.
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The technology college students showcased in a local parking lot June 2-3 could one day be on the moon.
College students from around the world gathered at the Colorado School of Mines last week to demonstrate their prototypes for moving lunar dust. The new challenge, sponsored by Lockheed Martin, asked the students to design and then build their systems over the school year.
On June 2-3, five teams from Australia, Canada, Germany, Poland and CSM demonstrated their systems for moving lunar dirt or regolith. Judges included technologists from NASA and Lockheed Martin, and others who specialize in developing space technology.
The teams were judged based on the amount of regolith transported, system mass, energy consumed, dust tolerance and generation, autonomy and overall performance.
The Laurentian Lunars from Ontario, Canada took first place and won a $3,000 prize. Poland's SpaceTeam AGH and Australia's Team UNSW took second and third, respectively, and received $2,000 and $1,000 prizes.
CSM and Lockheed Martin staff both said learning how to work with regolith will be important if humanity wants a sustainable presence on the moon. The students’ designs will help advance lunar exploration technology while also giving new them networking and educational opportunities, they said.
On June 2, the Laurentian Lunars kicked off the demonstrations, as their screw-augur system moved 100 kilograms of simulated regolith in 11 minutes. Prototypes had to move that amount in an hour or less.
CSM geology professor Kevin Cannon explained how the demonstrations was the second phase of the Over the Moon Challenge. The first was to design a concept design during the 2021 fall semester, and 16 teams participated. Six were invited to participate in the second phase, which was building and demonstrating their prototypes.
Cannon added that he was happy to see to such a great variety of technologies and designs.
As they watched their competition, the CSM team members — called the Dustbusters — were a bit nervous about their turn next day. While eight seniors designed and built the system, most wouldn't be able to attend the June 3 demonstration.
Evan Tunney and Nicholas Davis, who graduated CSM last month, said their system was a material ropeway that resembles a ski gondola. They showcased it in April for a schoolwide event, and had some trouble getting it set up.
“We’ll just guess and hope it works,” Tunney said of preparing for the June 3 demonstration.
Engineering professor Mark Florida, who’s been working with the Dustbusters, said the team originally thought it’d be doing a Mars ice-drilling challenge. Since they were already assembled, everyone decided to do Over the Dusty Moon instead, he described.
Florida and Tunney said they were excited to see how the challenge would develop in the coming years.
As the team from Australia’s University of New South Wales was setting up, Laurentian University’s Ethan Murphy felt his team’s demo had gone well.
“We should be proud of ourselves,” he said. “We worked very hard to be here.”
The Laurentian Lunars’ unofficial team captain said they had great industry advisors, and the eight seniors had lots of late-night conversations about the design. When the time came to showcase it, the team made the 24-hour drive from Ontario for the challenge. It was most of the students’ first time in another country, let alone their first time in Colorado.
June 2 was not only the culmination of their yearlong project, but it was also the eight seniors’ graduation day, Murphy described.
“It’s an excellent way to finish our degrees,” he said of the challenge. “ … It’s nice to meet people from other countries who have the same interests.”
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