AstroFest 2007

We participated in AstroFest 2007 on July 11-14 from 8:30-11:30 PM in Davey Lab. Several thousand visitors came and took part in driving the Lego rovers around the Mars Yard and performing tasks using the astronaut glove simulation.

University Rover Competition Review:

Penn State was one of four Universities invited to the inaugural University Rover Competition held in June 2007 by the International Mars Society. Six members of the Penn State Mars Society traveled to the Mars Desert Research Station located in Hanksville, Utah to demonstrate their rover's capabilities.

The competition was scenario-based: an astronaut on the surface of Mars must remain in the habitat whereas other astronauts are in the field surveying. The objective for the astronaut stationed in the habitat is to utilize a tele-operated rover to place a radio relay transmitter at a target location and perform geological surveying in the surrounding areas.

The Penn State Mars Society tackled this challenge starting in the fall 2006 semester. The rover was developed and fabricated entirely by undergraduate students; it was composed of a lightweight aluminum chassis combined with four-wheel differential steering, a large sliding gripper, and a camera mast. The rover's electronics package consisting of a field-programmable gate array (FPGA), a wireless module, and hardware control. The rover was controlled by a hand-built controller, which included buttons for the arm control, altering direction, and even included cruise control.

Unfortunately, reassembly of the rover at the competition introduced a short-circuit, resulting in the loss of the entire electronics package. Discouraged, the team was forced to withdrawal from the competition; however, the students did not let the turn of events interfere with any possible testing that could be accomplished while in the desert. The motors were hardwired to the battery in an attempt to test the maneuverability and effectiveness of the rover with the selected wheels and differential steering. The rover was competent in navigating rocky terrain and even small percentage grades. Taking the experience from the desert environment, the club has already designed replacement hardware and instituted design changes for next year's rover.

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©2007 Penn State Mars Society