AE Undergrads Gain Rocketry, Robotics Knowledge from NASA Launch Challenge
“The majority of our members were freshmen or sophomores, so essentially everything about building high-power rockets and robotics was completely new to them,” said team leader David Knourek.
The Maxi-MAV challenge competition in which the AE team participated took place April 10-11 in Alabama. The challenge involved robotically capturing simulated Mars soil samples, loading the samples into a rocket, launching the high-powered rocket to 3,000 feet, and ejecting and returning the soil sample to Earth.
“For the challenge, we had to build an autonomous system to pick up a simulated soil sample, which was a small pvc pipe filled with sand for weight,” Knourek said. “The system then had to place the sample into the rocket, and somehow seal the vehicle. We used a hinged door secured with magnets, which was closed by the robotic arm. Then the system had to lift the rocket to a vertical launch position, and insert the igniter. All of this had to be done without any human intervention. Then the launch controller launched the rocket, which ejected the container holding the sample payload at 1,000 feet above the ground during descent.
“The launch was very successful, the rocket flew exactly as we expected and landed safely,” Knourek continued. “It flew to 3,500 feet, which was above the 3,000-foot target altitude, but due to competition rules we weren't able to modify our rocket after our test flight, and we knew that would happen.
“We had a very minor issue with the robotic arm which meant we had to close the gripper around the sample manually instead of autonomously. Other than that, the robotic system worked as designed.”
In addition to Knourek, team members were:
• Christopher Lorenz – Team Leader at Launch
• Jacqueline Dbila – Structures and Recovery Team leader
• Brian Hardy – Structures and Recovery Team
• Alli Whitfield – Structures and Recovery Team
• Andrew Koehler – Structures and Recovery Team
• Ian Charter – Autonomous Ground Support Equipment Team leader
• Ben Collins – Autonomous Ground Support Equipment Team
• Lui Suzuki – Autonomous Ground Support Equipment Team
• Alexandra Bacula – Autonomous Ground Support Equipment Team