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Building a Low-Budget Moon Rover

Project  : Collaborative, Leadership
Role : System/Mechanical Ideation, Rover Deployment Design, Safety Analysis. 
The LunarX Competition

The $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE is an unprecedented competition to challenge and inspire engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. To win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a privately funded team must be the first to successfully place a spacecraft on the surface of moon, travel 500 meters on the surface and transmit high definition video and images back to earth. I was thrilled to be working as a design engineer on CMU's Team Astrobotic as one of the contenders for this prestigious competition.

System Design

The LunarX Team is an interdisciplinary team of more than 60 engineering students from all disciplines. With experts in the field of telemetry, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, material science, we were ready to take on the moon. The system was divided in three parts:

1. Rocket for launching (SpaceX Falcon)

2. Spacecraft for landing (Astrobotic Inc.)

3. Rover for lunar exploration (CMU Team).

The CMU team was solely responsible to develop the rover. The focus of my work was bringing the rover and the spacecraft together. The part which connected the rover with the spacecraft is termed as the Rover-Lander Interface. I worked closely with engineers from Astrobotic and led a small team of 3 students on the CMU Team.

Rover-Lander Interface

The way spacecraft was designed, the rover needed to be connected mechanically as well as electrically to the lander surface. The design requirements were:

  • Shall comply with the mechanical interface of the lander plate

  • Shall not pose a danger for the lander

  • Shall not weigh more than 0.5 kg

  • Shall be thermally insulated from the lander

  • Shall be repeatable for the sake of testing

We looked at various commercially available actuators for release mechanism and decided to use a hold down release mechanism.

Final HDRM selections:

A. TiNi Frangibolt Actuator FD04A

B. TiNi ERM E250


Criteria for selection:

  • Number of actuators needed (1/2)

  • Lowering mechanism design

  • Lead time and availability

Designs and Testing

Once we selected the components, we worked on various ways to place the systems and connect them. The two main system designs are shown on the left. The blue lines depict a mechanical connections while the orange lines depict an electric connections.

We prototyped both mechanisms and rigorously tested it for resiliency. In the end we developed a wired deployment system with automated release. 

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