Thursday, April 30, 2015

[425] MTSU engineering teams aim for sky at NASA lunar rover competition

MURFREESBORO — Following outstanding showings the past two years and armed with secret weapons for the vehicle they call “The Beast,” nearly 20 MTSU engineering technology team members are primed for this weekend’s NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge.

The lunar rover’s nearly 20 team members have been preparing for their return to Huntsville, Alabama, for the 2015 race since the end of last year’s event. MTSU will be competing against an international and U.S. field in the Friday and Saturday, April 17-18, competition at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge encourages research and development of new technology for future mission planning and crewed space missions to other worlds.

The nearly 100 teams’ challenge focuses on designing, constructing and testing technologies for mobility devices to perform in different environments, and it will provide valuable experiences that engage students in the technologies and concepts that will be needed in future exploration missions.

Rovers are human-powered and carry two students, a male and a female, along a half-mile obstacle course of simulated extraterrestrial terrain of craters, boulders, ridges, inclines, crevasses and depressions.

Formidable opposition is expected to come from Humacao, a university in Puerto Rico, and Southern Illinois University. Watch the competition on NASA television at

“Our chances (of doing well) are very, very high,” said Beau Hallavant, a senior mechanical engineering technology major from Bell Buckle, Tennessee, and MTSU Experimental Vehicles Program lunar rover captain. “We have better drivers with a higher level of fitness that will allow the rovers to achieve a higher top speed more easily.”

This year’s drivers include graduate student Zach Hill of Hendersonville, Tennessee, juniors Jasmine Johnson of Maryville, Tennessee, and Aaron Greenberg of Houston, Texas, and senior Nichole Wanamaker of Clarksville, Tennessee.

“The Beast,” unveiled in 2014, finished fourth among U.S. entries and fifth overall in 2014. This year’s modified version includes new gearing and steering plus the secret weapons: a telemetry system and an iPad Air 2.

Senior Zach Hunter of Knoxville, Tennessee, who is majoring in the second-year mechatronics engineering program, led the implementation of both. The telemetry adds GPS coordinates, biometrics (providing the heart rates for the drivers) and information regarding speed, acceleration and force of gravity.

“We’ll see all that data streaming in and by the next day (Day 2 of the challenge), we’ll have a full map and know about the course,” Hunter said.

“It’s pretty incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Hallavant said. “For a student to go above and beyond what was needed, it’s seriously award-winning. I fully expect the telemetry award. We will be the first team from MTSU and likely first ever in this competition to have telemetry like this.”

Hunter also led the execution of the iPad Air 2, which can be found at the same location for the lunar rover entry number (15). When the number’s removed and iPad turned on, anyone can view the window with the digital display.

The “Model-A,” affectionately called that by team members, finished third in the U.S. and fourth overall in 2013, and seventh in the U.S. and 11th overall in 2014. Modifications this year include new gearing and seating and a revamped drivetrain

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