June 14, 2024


The Joy of Technology

Two Seattle-area students are finalists in NASA design contest for lunar dirt-digging robots


Challenge Stardust by Ke “Max” Jiang, left, and Terebro, by Mason Lysaght. (Lunabotics Photos)

Dig this — two Seattle-spot college students had been semifinalists in a nationwide contest run by NASA in which youngsters in grades K-12 were tasked with building a robot that could scoop up and transport lunar soil.

The Lunabotics Junior Contest winners ended up named at the end of March and amongst 20 kids in the last pack ended up Ke “Max” Jiang of Bellevue, Wash., and Mason Lysaght of Snohomish. The contest attracted approximately 2,300 layout submissions.

The entrants ended up tasked with producing a drawing of their robot’s design, possibly as an primary operate of art, 3D model, diagram or photograph of a prototype. A composed summary of the machine’s style was also required.

NASA centered the contest close to its ambition to return to the Moon and potential requires connected to digging and shifting lunar soil, or regolith, from one particular region of the lunar South Pole to a keeping container in close proximity to a planned Artemis Moon base. The planned robots — no even bigger than 3.5 toes x 2 toes x 2 feet, had to handle worries such as how the robots would scoop and dig regolith how a lot filth would be transported on every excursion and how the machines would deal with lunar dust clinging to everything.

Lunar regolith will be made use of for a number of reasons, according to NASA, this sort of as creating a Moon foundation utilizing lunar concrete harvesting drinking water that also can be made use of for rocket fuel and extracting achievable metals or minerals. 

We caught up with Max and Mason to study more about their models, their inspiration, views on tech and future aspirations. Responses edited for size and clarity.

Ke ‘Max’ Jiang – Job Stardust

Ke “Max” Jiang. (Photograph courtesy of Ke Jiang)

GeekWire: How outdated are you and the place do you go to college?

Max: I am 17 years previous. I am a junior at Interlake High School in Bellevue. It’s a great university offering a rigorous Intercontinental Baccalaureate program, and I am fortuitous to have quite a few academics who uncovered me to advanced topics in physics, chemistry, style technological know-how, and economics of building points.

GW: How very long have you been intrigued in robotics?

Max: When I was minor, I appreciated seeing and enjoying with factors that could drive, fly, or operate autonomously at the pull of a swap. As early as 3 decades previous, I would sit for several hours putting toy rails in distinct layouts, and by the age of 8, I would assemble big Lego sets, and use all obtainable styles to style my possess airplanes and boats, even including robotic motors and earning them shift.

My center school had a workshop which permitted me to use actual creating resources for the initial time. I was in a position to design and software modest autos and drones, top to me and my staff successful second place in the Museum of Flight’s annual Area Elevator Challenge. In the course of this time, I also started out using computerized design and style software and simulator online games like Kerbal House Software. 

In superior school I was capable to take part in Engineering Innovation (EI) system from John Hopkins University at 10th quality and acquired exposed to arduous style and design processes from ideation to implementation. It was a lot of entertaining operating in a wholly distant staff, with anyone seeking our greatest to make the most sturdy “Golden Gate” bridge with spaghetti, wax papers and glue!

Much more particulars about Undertaking Stardust. (Lunabotics Graphic)

GW: How did you occur up with your Lunabotics notion?

Max: I started out with defining my major goal — a critical structure principle, so I know what to maximize for and the place to make important trade-offs. This obstacle was called to dig, transport, and unload lunar regolith most effectively. In my assessment, traveling back and forth via not known terrain was a significant danger element, as a result my objective was to optimize the carrying ability — and therefore the dimensions — of the rover, which in convert, would minimize the number of journeys taken and lower the chance of failed travels. I also learned the functional lesson that any very good style have to account for specific disorders the layout is operated below. In this obstacle, running on the moon suggests navigating by way of uneven terrains in permanent darkness, encountering lunar dust, and sustained unmanned functions. Lastly, reliability is essential. So I made the decision to integrate established technologies to make the rover work optimally.

With individuals in intellect, I established to style and design the essential construction of my rover, the Stardust — a substantial regolith container on top rated of a frame supported by a set of six wheels. For simplicity of automation, the regolith container can flip and dump out the regolith immediately, just like a dump truck. Similarly, current tech like the Rocker-Bogie suspension method was used on Stardust’s undercarriage, so it could travel simply over uneven terrain, and an excavator from fashionable industrial bucket-wheel style and design was added for sustained regolith assortment. Next the simple construction, I included a electric power resource (two Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators) to present continuous electric power during the fortnight-extended Lunar night, sets of batteries, conversation devices, and a navigation digital camera. And lastly, I added more aspects to demonstrate important subsystems, these kinds of as electrode circuits to repel lunar dust.

GW: What engineering are you most excited about appropriate now?

Max: I am most psyched about the enhancement of reusable rockets and spaceplanes, as perfectly as linked technologies these types of as new propellants, blended-cycle spaceplane engines, and the like. Making spaceplanes reusable would drastically push down the price, and a trustworthy start-and-return will attract extra passions and expense. Updates from SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Reaction Engines Limited, and CASIC are all what I closely comply with on every single turn. I believe that, a single day, widespread people like you and I can afford to pay for a seat in a spacecraft and enjoy the watch of Earth from the over.

GW: What is your dream work?

Max: My dream occupation is to become an aerospace engineer, ideally specialized in propulsion. I would choose great satisfaction in contributing to the advancement of house exploration, generating it accessible to each kid who has a aspiration of flight to go quicker and farther. 

Mason Lysaght – Terebro (drill in Latin)

A sketch of the Terebro lunar robot by Mason Lysaght. (Lunabotics Image)

GeekWire: How old are you and wherever do you go to university?

Mason: I am 14 many years old. I go to Valley Check out Middle University in Snohomish. 

GW: How extended have you been intrigued in robotics?

Mason Lysaght. (Image courtesy of Mason Lysaght)

Mason: I have usually been curious about how things perform, be it robotics, natural phenomenon, chemistry, and so forth.  For the earlier couple of several years, I have been lucky more than enough to be gifted subscriptions to robotics and engineering kits so that I could improved check out my desire in these fields. The Lunabotics Junior challenge was a great way to channel my creativeness and scientific curiosity, and I am happy that I was given the possibility to participate. 

GW: How did you occur up with your Lunabotics concept?

Mason: I took a whole lot of inspiration from prosperous NASA rovers like Perseverance. I tweaked the designs of these rovers and recreated them to superior suit the challenge’s requirements: getting capable to effectively excavate and transportation lunar regolith. I then added far more capabilities, like the lots of electricity sources (an MMRTG, a pack of lithium-ion batteries, and photo voltaic panels equipped with brushes), a scoop, and additional wheels in the front to change up the regolith. 

GW: What technology are you most energized about right now?

Mason: There are quite a few unique styles of technologies that I am intrigued in! The possibilities with AI and virtual truth are intriguing (and a minimal scary). Of program, I’m energized about tech like Perseverance, or the James Webb telescope, as these could really advance our initiatives in furthering house exploration. 

GW: What is your aspiration work?

Mason: Due to the fact I’m still in middle college, and really do not know exactly what my long run holds, I’d say that I have some dream fields rather than a specific position. I would of course be intrigued in careers that are robotics or engineering similar, and I enjoy the thought of pursuing aerospace technologies. Actually, functioning for NASA would be a aspiration for me. 


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