Judging the 2015 NASA Robotic Mining Competition

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The Sixth Annual NASA Robotic Mining Competition was recently held at Kennedy Space Center. This year, 47 university-level student teams competed to design and build a mining robot that can traverse simulated Martian chaotic terrain, excavate Martian regolith and deposit the regolith into a Collector Bin within 10 minutes. Some teams were even able to accomplish these tasks autonomously, which I had the pleasure to judge this year. This marks the sixth year that Honeybee has sponsored the competition, and each year the designs get better and better.

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Visiting the LCC (Launch Control Center) and siting in the Launch Director’s chair in Firing Room 1.

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The Visitor’s Center at Kennedy Space Center showcases a beautiful Rocket Garden and Space Shuttle Atlantis.

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Winners will be publicly announced in a couple weeks — stay tuned and congrats to all the teams for their impressive problem-solving during the competition!

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LITA Field Testing 2015, Day 10 (April 6)

The LITA team is in the middle of field testing. Our rover Zoe has been driving to preselected locations, and at each location it takes a panorama, takes spectra readings of the surroundings, drills to collects subsurface samples, and uses the Mars Microbeam Raman Spectrometer (MMRS) to take spectra of the samples. Additionally, the team takes soil moisture content measurements and collects manual samples at 10, 20, 50, and 80 cm depth for comparison to the drill-acquired samples. So far, Zoe has visited 6 locations.

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The LITA drill is a 1 meter drill with a specially designed drill bit for collecting subsurface samples. The drill has a brush mechanism that ejects the sample into one of 20 cubic centimeter containers on a carousel mounted on the rover. The carousel rotates the containers so that the samples can be collected, then analyzed by the MMRS. For a video describing the drill operation, see this link: LITA Drill Operation.

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Dust devils have been a common occurrence in the sandy playas, which is where several of our test locations have been. Despite the busy schedule, we find time for fun as seen in our photos. Also, we saw a South American gray fox near the observatory the other day.

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