The surface of Mars may seem light years away, but the University of Saskatchewan Space Design Team is bringing it a little closer to home.
The group’s latest project, which began in early September, is to design and build a Mars rover — a space exploration vehicle designed for travel on the surface of a planet — for the 2014 University Rover Challenge. As part of the challenge, university students design, build and test their own Mars rovers.
The average 225 million kilometre distance to the Red Planet makes testing rovers on real martian terrain a challenge in itself. Fortunately a suitable substitute has been found a few kilometres off of a dusty road in rural Utah, where the challenge will be hosted by the Mars Society — a non-governmental organization concerned with promoting human exploration and colonization of the planet.
“This project is based on the concept that in the future a settlement on Mars or the moon would have a large quantity of robots working for the residents,” said USST President Justin Gerein.
Gerein said the competition focuses on tasks that would be difficult for humans to perform on Mars due to the planet’s harsh environment. On Mars, temperatures can drop to below -100 degrees Celsius, very little oxygen is in the atmosphere and there is no ozone layer to shield ultraviolet rays. The tasks include delivering materials to a certain location, sample collection, location analysis, traversing challenging terrain and equipment maintenance.
The USST’s rover is being designed to be controlled in real time much like rovers currently in use, Gerein said.
This is not the USST’s first experience with rover construction. Over the last year-and-a-half, they were occupied with a similar contest, the Annual Lunabotics Competition, hosted by NASA. The team spent nearly a year working on their entry to the lunar rover competition.
Unfortunately, NASA chose not to invite teams from outside of the U.S. due to lack of resources, said Gerein.
“It was very disappointing news to the team, especially due to the work that was lost,” Gerein said.
Gerein remains optimistic about the group’s chances in 2014, saying that a lot of work from their previous project will be applicable to this new Mars rover challenge.
“We learned a large amount about robotics, and [we] will be in a very good position as we jump into the next project,” Gerein said.
Even so, there is much work left to be done and the USST has begun its annual recruitment drive for students to join the team.
Although the group is based in the Engineering Building, the USST is open to students from any college and has members from the colleges of Engineering, Arts and Science, Medicine and Edward’s School of business.
Photo: J. Kubica