Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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EDS Sr Design Team Takes 3rd in Competition of 16 Colleges

The AEM 4333 Mars Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) senior design team took part in the NASA RASC_AL collegiate design and innovation challenge. The design team members are: Clayton Lewis, Team Lead: Bryce Doerr; Kee Onn Fong; Zach Fox; Wei Sien Goh; Jake Hergert; Chun Kiang Lau; Robert Michalak; Kok Tong Ng and Eric Pollpeter. The competition consisted of 16 college teams including 13 teams of undergraduates and 3 teams of graduate students. Competing colleges included: University of Maryland, Embry-Riddell, University of Colorado, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Harvard, USC, UC Davis, West Virginia State, University of Texas, University of Illinois, Penn State, and Drexel University. The competition was split into four different categories. The AEM design team was in the Large Scale Mars Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) Pathfinder Mission.

The problem statement for the EDL category was:

Current state of the art for landing payloads on the surface of Mars is currently at around one metric ton. In order for humans to access the surface of Mars, landed payload masses of at least 20 metric tons are desired. Given a single SLS block 2 vehicle, design a mission that demonstrates (at required scale) the integrated technologies for landing human class payloads on the surface of Mars. This pathfinder mission will deliver a large robotic payload to the surface that should accomplish Mars-forward objectives beyond the EDL technology such as sample return or In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), which means the mission design may need to accommodate operations years beyond landing. Total mission cost (excluding launch vehicle) should not exceed $1 billion.

The AEM student design team spent the fall 2014 semester translating the problem statement into a set of requirements, doing a preliminary design and writing an abstract that was evaluated by NASA as an entrance criterion for the next stage of the competition. The Minnesota team was honored by being selected to do a full design report and present their design at a NASA hosted RASC_AL innovation conference in June. The spring 2015 semester was spent adding a lot more detail to the design, writing the final report, preparing the competition presentation, and building scale prototypes of parts of the design using 3D printed parts. Key innovations in their Mars Lander design included: 1) a nuclear electric propulsion design consisting of the VASIMR ion thruster propulsion system, thermo-photovoltaic (TPV) conversion system and an onboard nuclear reactor; 2) a MARS entry system including a modified Adaptive Deployable Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT) heat shield and a ballute with a boundary layer tripping burble fence for improved stability; and 3) a mission payload consisting of the Integrated Propellant Production System (IMISPPS) for production of 100 metric tons of rocket propellant on the surface of Mars for use in later missions.

At the NASA competition in Cocoa Beach, FL on June 14-17, the team participated in 3 days of presentations and poster sessions and a tour of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) including a SPACEX hosted tour of their new launch facility at Pad 39A at KSC (the historic launch pad that all the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions used). Late on Wednesday morning the Minnesota team was the last team to present their design. Immediately after the presentation, they went into their poster session and capably answered many detailed questions from the set of NASA and industry judges. The team did an absolutely fabulous job of presenting their material.

They received an award from NASA for the best presentation (an autographed copy of the book The Martian by Andy Weir). Even more impressive, their design was awarded 3rd place overall in the competition out of the 16 teams. The team was awarded a nice plaque from NASA at the awards banquet. The AEM students received many compliments from both judges and faculty advisors from other teams on their innovative design and their in depth knowledge of the technologies they proposed. The student team definitely encourages the department to participate in the competition again next year.


Drawing of final AEM student team Mars Lander spacecraft

Last Modified: 2015-06-28 at 17:58:47 -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation