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Mines students win $3K for 3D printed lunar rover wheel design

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A team of students from the Colorado School of Mines was awarded a $3,000 prize for coming up with a winning design for new lunar rover wheels. The winning project, called CLOVER, consists of a 3D printed collapsible wheel which is capable of collecting samples from the moon’s surface as it rolls.

The wheels on a lunar rover are not quite the same as the wheels of a car. For instance, NASA’s last lunar rover had wheels which were made from flexible wire mesh and rigid inner frames, which provided the necessary traction for transporting astronauts and equipment across the moon’s surface.

As part of the 2019 Manufacturing Innovation Challenge, sponsored by the Advanced Manufacturing Program at Mines, students were invited to design lunar rover wheels that also integrated the function of collecting lunar regolith samples. Team CLOVER ultimately blew the judges away with its concept for a 3D printed wheel with sample-collecting capability.

Essentially, the wheel is equipped with a shovel that scoops up small samples from the moon’s surface. With every revolution of the wheel, the shovel deposits the sample into one of many test tubes built into the wheel. While the wheel is designed to be built from aluminum and titanium, a demonstration prototype was 3D printed using plastic materials.

Mines 3D printed lunar rover wheel
The 3D printed CLOVER wheel is collapsible

“We joined the competition as we thought it would be a fun way to extend ourselves beyond our class and get an opportunity to both learn more about additive manufacturing and make something cool that we could be proud of,” said Claire Thomas, a mechanical engineer junior and a member of Team CLOVER. “We know we had some amazing competition, so we’re all extremely proud and glad the judges saw the uniqueness of our design.”

If the CLOVER wheel (which stands for CoLlapsible GrOund Truthing RoVER Wheel) brings to mind collapsible children’s toys (and specifically the Hoberman sphere), it’s because the Mines students drew inspiration from them. As Thomas explained: “The inspiration for our design came from the kids’ toy that you throw like a frisbee but deploys into a ball when thrown—we thought its deployment mechanism was really unique.”

The Manufacturing Innovation Challenge also awarded a second prize of $2,000 to Team R.O.L.L.E.R. for its Rotational On-Demand Lunar Laboratory for Extraterrestrial Research, which combines passive and active sampling methods. $1,000 was given Team GRATR which drew inspiration from a cheese grater for a soil sampling device.

The student-led teams were judged by a panel of experts, including Charles M. Rash, President of Griffin Systems & Technology; Roger McNamara, Director at Lockheed Martin Space Systems; and Steven Harford, Chief Technologist at Ball Aerospace. The judges selected the winners based on which projects met the brief for a soil sampling wheel in the best and most innovative way.

“Our goal for this competition was to inspire students to take modern design and manufacturing approaches and apply them to a 50-year-old solution to see what could be improved,” said Craig Brice, director of the Advanced Manufacturing Program. “And, of course, add a new wrinkle with the addition of the constraint that the wheel design must also sample the soil as it moves. The designs the students came up with were incredibly creative and I was impressed with how far they were able to take their designs with only one semester to work on it.”

The winners were announced on December 5, 2019.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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