Will Purdue Northwest students design Mars rovers of the future?

July 2, 2019
PNW Rover #1: Harini Ilamurugu and Aaron Kruse

PNW Rover #1: Harini Ilamurugu and Aaron Kruse

Two Purdue Northwest engineering student teams finish in the top 10 in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge

NASA’s twin Mars rovers, known as “Spirit” and “Opportunity,” have amassed unparalleled amounts of information about Earth’s distant cousin. Future explorations of Mars may include humans, which will require new technology—and Purdue University Northwest (PNW) graduates may be key players in this quest.

PNW students won sixth and ninth place honors in a field of over 50 rovers in NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge 2019, held at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, April 12-13. The annual event features an engineering design challenge and promotes research and development of new technology for crewed space missions to other worlds.

The international competition included college teams from 20 U.S. States, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, as well as Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Columbia, Brazil, Dominican Republic and India.

PNW entered two rovers in the competition. Rover #1 finished in sixth place and Rover #2 came in at ninth place. They were also two of only 24 rovers that accumulated points in an allotted time.

PNW Rover #2: Tulio Marcus Ribeiro and Athira Nair Surendran

PNW Rover #2: Tulio Marcus Ribeiro and Athira Nair Surendran

“The rover team this year worked very well together as can be seen by their accomplishments,” PNW professor of mechanical engineering Harvey Abramowitz said. “Having both vehicles finish in the top nine, with chances for both to win it all, was awesome to see. The team itself was international in character with members from different parts of the globe, including Brazil and Malaysia, the home countries of the Rover #2 riders. Teamwork can accomplish much, and these students should be congratulated for representing PNW so well.”

The challenge required a student-constructed rover to traverse a 0.5 mile course with 14 Martian-type obstacles while performing a variety of five tasks, such as sampling rocks and planting a flag on a cratered surface. The rover itself was required to fold into a five foot cube and be driven by a male and female team. Points were earned for each obstacle overcome and each task completed. The points must be earned within six minutes with the rover returning to the base within seven minutes for the points to count. The seven minute window mimics how much oxygen would be available for such an outer world excursion.

Both PNW rovers were built as senior design projects. PNW Rover #1 was driven by Aaron Kruse and Harini Ilamurugu, both mechanical engineering seniors. The riders for PNW Rover #2 were Athira Nair Surendran and Tulio Marcos Ribeiro, also mechanical engineering seniors. Other members of the Rover Team included mechanical engineering seniors  John Resa, Mohammed Dawod, Adrian Guzman De La Mora, Yasser Salalmeh, Sam Olsen, Alex Murga, sophomore Ryan Matthew Harker, junior Anatasia Immaculata Ahearn, and electrical engineering seniors Adrian Aguayo and Missael Sahagun. Abramowitz and associate professor of electrical & computer engineering Don Gray, advised the team.

The Rover Team would like to acknowledge and thank those who provided financial and material aid, machine shop usage and advice along the way: the PNW Undergraduate Research Grant; Indiana Space Grant Consortium; PNW Student Service Fee grant; ALRO Steel Corporation; Kaiser Aluminum; Arrow Pin and Products, Inc.; Herald Machine Works, Inc.; Victor Stearns; professor Hansung Kim and the PNW machine shop; Rick Rickerson, laboratory administrator; and student workers Zachary Szymanek and Lacey Doyle.

The School of Engineering at Purdue University Northwest

The PNW School of Engineering is recognized for its expertise in mechanical, civil, computer, and electrical engineering. In 2019, U.S. News ranked the school No. 35 among the Best Engineering Programs in the U.S., of engineering schools whose highest degree is a bachelor’s or master’s degree.