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May 22, 2009
By Mike Wolterbeek
University of Nevada, Reno students are fine-tuning the design of this year’s entry into the Mars Society’s University Rover Competition held in the lonely heat of the southern Utah desert.
“It’s looking better than last year,” mechanical engineering student Travis Fields said. “We only had two days of driving to prepare last year, and this year we’ve have several weeks of testing and refining.”
The competition between 10 universities will be held May 28-30. The team of 15 Nevada students will continue field testing before they leave Tuesday for the Mars Desert Research Station outside of Hanksville, Utah.
The scenario presented by the Mars Society University Rover Challenge asks the teams of university students to design and build their vision of the next generation of Mars rovers, which could accompany an early human mission to Mars.
The competition includes four tasks: surveying of markers up to a half mile away using triangulation with a rangefinder and camera; emergency navigation over rough terrain looking for a lost astronaut using last known coordinates; finding lithotrophic bacteria (microbugs) under rocks using a spectrometer; and bolt-turning tasks with a mechanical arm.
The rover is driven remotely using stereovision glasses and tv monitors with four cameras delivering pictures of surrounding terrain.
“This year we have a new communication system, a lowered center of gravity, stronger suspension and improved components for the scientific tasks,” Fields said.
All teams are judged on performance of basic engineering tasks as well as scientific research and analysis. University of Nevada, Reno students won the first University Rover Challenge two years ago and finished second last year after the rover literally tumbled down a steep slope while the team was hurrying to meet a time limit for a task. They hope to regain the top spot this year.
The winning team will win transportation, lodging and admission for five team members to the 12th Annual International Mars Society Convention in Washington, D.C., this summer and large cash prizes. The University team includes students studying material science, geophysics, geology, computer science, mechanical engineering and environmental engineering.
This year teams are coming from around the country as well as Canada, Poland and Puerto Rico to participate in the University Rover Challenge. The competition is sponsored by The Mars Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to research and development of a mission to the red planet.