Three UT Austin Teams Finalists in NASA Space Exploration Design Competition

May 7, 2020
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Three teams of  seniors in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics are finalists in NASA’s RASC-AL (Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage) annual design competition. The students entered the competition as part of their capstone senior design project in the Spacecraft/Mission Design course. Only fifteen teams from across the globe were selected as finalists.

The competition is open to undergraduate and graduate university teams and encourages students to design innovative space mission concepts, analogs and prototypes related to specific space exploration themes. Student teams were able to select from five themes for the 2020 competition.

Each of the UT teams received a $6,000 Concept Development Award to assist in the development of future capstone design concepts, and the Autoponics team was awarded an additional $5,000 Prototype Development Award to enable the creation of a payload mock-up.

Finalists will also have the opportunity to give virtual presentations on their concepts to competition judges in early June. The top two overall winning teams will receive a travel stipend to present their concept at the next AIAA ASCEND conference. 

The three UT Austin team finalists include:

Team MarsTRAIN: Short Surface Stay Mars Mission

Team MarsTRAIN’s (Mars Transit, Reconnaissance and Investigative Navigator) goals are to get boots on Martian soil, collect surface and sub-surface soil samples, understand the effects of interplanetary travel on the human body and search for signs of extraterrestrial life. Current technology for interplanetary travel requires landing and taking off using two separate vehicles. This team’s novel concept introduces MarsTRAIN which includes a pressurized rover, Oddity. The rover will serve both as the center of operations and as a mobile base for the crew. During the 30 days spent on the surface of Mars, Oddity will travel from the landing site to the takeoff site using solar panels. While the rover is charging, the crew can drive the unpressurized buggy to collect samples of Martian soil, allowing for more diverse exploration than a traditional stationary base.

MarsTRAIN team members include: Tyler Ashorn, Emma Bryant, Felipe Contreras, Pascual Diaz, Sebastian Garcia, Seiler Hess, James Jones, Likhit Macharla, Will Matthews, Erik Mills, James Morales, Rebeca Ramirez, Alejandro Saldana, Kenneth Uhle, Daley Wylie; Faculty Advisor: Adam Nokes

Team LEGACI: Commercial Cis-Lunar Space Development

Team LEGACI (Lunar Engraver with Geologic Autonomous Carving Instrument) developed a concept that will carve legible inscriptions into the lunar surface using a robotic arm and then deliver images of these inscriptions back to customers. Their concept includes sending a small fleet of rovers to the Moon via the Commercial Lunar Payload service. Customers will have the ability to order their inscriptions online, which are then forwarded to a rover on the Moon via satellite. Once the rover completes the inscription, images will be sent back to Earth and 3D prints and photos will be delivered to the customer. The LEGACI concept offers individuals and businesses around the globe the opportunity to leave text or images carved into the surface of the moon where they can leave thoughtful messages to loved ones, leave their family legacy on the lunar surface, or simply make their unique mark on the moon.

LEGACI team members include: Samuel Adams, Ali Babool, David Baier, Brianna Caughron, Jack Davidson, Justin Ganiban, Kevin Hicks, Akshat Ramadurai, Nader Syed, Rebecca Wang; Faculty Advisor: Adam Nokes

Team Autoponics: Autonomous Utilization and Maintenance for Science Payloads on the Gateway and/or Mars-class Transportation

Team Autoponics aims to develop an autonomous payload for the Lunar Gateway that will maintain the survival of plant life in a microgravity environment by autonomously managing the environmental properties. The design includes an aeroponics system in which the roots of the plants are suspended. Critical nutrients and water will be applied directly onto the roots and the process will be controlled autonomously. Other environmental factors will be manipulated using a series of PID controllers that analyze the difference between the desired and actual properties. This concept expands on NASA’s Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) used aboard the International Space Station by adding an aeroponic system and a robotic arm, which allows for more autonomous functionality. These innovations to the APH could be used to lower design costs and improve the technological design challenges of hosting plant life in space.

Autoponics team members include: Sergio Cardenas, Jack Fennessey, Mario Gonzalez, Yushi Hattori, Kwang Hak Kim, Thomas McPartland, Niusha Saadat, Salman Sarwar; Faculty Advisor: Adam Nokes