RASC-AL Lunar Wheel Design Challenge Is ON!

NASA wants to reinvent the wheel!

A wheel to be used on vehicles driving around the surface of the moon, that is.

The RASC-AL Lunar Wheel Design Challenge is an engineering competition sponsored by NASA and organized by the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA). In this exciting competition, undergraduate and graduate students are invited to create a multi-disciplinary team to build a lunar wheel prototype and demonstrate its capabilities while mounted on a John Deere Gator RSX utility vehicle in field tests at the NASA Johnson Space Center’s Rock Yard in July 2013.

NASA and NIA seek innovative and creative engineering ideas for a prototype wheel (tire and rim combination) to be used on NASA's Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV). One of the current challenges facing human exploration of the Moon and Mars is developing a wheel that needs little maintenance, can travel at higher speeds needed for human rovers, and can withstand several years of harsh temperature swings, abrasive regolith, intense sun radiation, and lack of an Earth-like atmosphere.

In the Lunar Wheel Design Competition, NASA is challenging university teams to design and build a wheel that will withstand the unforgiving environments experienced on the Moon and Mars. Participating teams are expected to deliver four functioning wheels that can be tested on Earth using an off-road utility vehicle, and present their wheel concept to a design review panel. Presentations will be based on the team's technical paper that details the wheel concept's path-to-flight (how the design can be applied to actual planetary exploration on an SEV).

Based on Project Plans submitted by Sunday, December 16, 2012, up to 8 teams will be selected to participate in the challenge. The Lunar Wheel Steering Committee will review each team's project plan and announce the qualifying teams by January 7, 2013.

SF writers enjoyed working on the challenge of driving around on the moon. Arthur C. Clarke created a solution called "flex-wheels" in his 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey:

Most of them moved on balloon tires, for this smooth, level plain posed no transportation difficulties; but one tanker rolled on the peculiar flex-wheels which had proved one of the best all-purpose ways of getting around on the Moon. A series of flat plates arranged in a circle, each plate independently mounted and sprung, the flex-wheel had many of the advantages of the caterpillar track from which it had evolved. It would adapt its shape and diameter to the terrain over which it was moving, and, unlike a caterpillar track, would continue to function even if a few sections were missing.

Via RASC-AL; thanks to @Lunar_wheel_design for pointing this out.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/26/2012)

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