Rovers and Spaceships Everywhere! (Issue #23)

Rover and Engineering Design Competitions- Levels:  5th grade thru Undergraduate

By: Nicole Willett, Chuck McMurray and The Mars Society

The Mars Society is host to three (3) design challenges.  They range in age from middle school thru college level.  The middle and high school level challenge was launched at the 16th Annual Mars Society Convention this past August.  It is called the Youth Rover Challenge.  One of the undergraduate challenges is called the University Rover Challenge and it has had several very successful seasons so far.  The final challenge was also launched at the convention in August.  It is an international student design competition.

YRC2The Youth Rover Challenge (YRC) is a multi-tier robotics education development program that is hosted, sponsored and operated by The Mars Society. The program commenced on August 6th, 2013 to commemorate the one year anniversary of the landing of NASA’s Curiosity Rover.

YRC is a STEM related educational effort that is designed for schools and organizations with students or members in grades 5-12 to have the chance to build and compete at a global level with a LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 based robotic rover and competition arena intended to simulate the surface of Mars. The sandbox where the robotic rover operates is intended to be replicated so participants can operate the competition locally at your school, home or club. The Rover built for the competition is pre-designed to accomplish specific experiments (tasks) similar to what Mars Rovers accomplish today on the surface of Mars and other harsh environments on remote places on Earth. The competition is operated on-site at your self-built sandbox and the final operation of the field tasks are then videotaped and sent to each teams personalized YRC site for submission. Teams that have submitted videos that show the final operation of the rover completing the tasks under a time limit are then ranked against other teams.  The YRC is designed to prepare students for the University Rover Challenge that has operated successfully for the last 7 years directed by The Mars Society.

The University Rover Challenge (URC) is the world’s premier robotics competition for college students.  The URC has officially kicked off its 2014 competition.  This competition challenges students to design and build the next generation of Mars rovers which will one day work alongside astronauts on the Red Planet.

URC2Teams spend the academic year designing, building and testing their robotic creations. They will compete at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in the remote, barren desert of southern Utah in late May, 2014. The challenge features multiple tasks, including an Equipment Servicing Task that incorporates inflatable structures, and a more aggressive incarnation of the popular Terrain Traversing Task.

URC is unique in the challenges that it presents to students. Interdisciplinary teams will tackle robotics, engineering and field science domains, while gaining real-world systems engineering and project management experience.  University teams interested in participating can view the URC2014 rules online. The official registration process will open in early November; however teams are encouraged to begin their work now.

The Mars Society recently announced the launch of an International Engineering Competition for student teams to propose design concepts for the architecture of the Inspiration Mars mission. The contest is open to university engineering student teams from anywhere in the world.

Insp marsInspiration Mars Executive Director Dennis Tito and Program Manager Taber MacCallum were present for the announcement. “Inspiration Mars is looking for the most creative ideas from engineers all over the world,” said Tito. “Furthermore, we want to engage the explorers of tomorrow with a real and exciting mission, and demonstrate what a powerful force space exploration can be in inspiring young people to develop their talent. This contest will accomplish both of those objectives.”

Insp mars shipThe requirement is to design a two-person Mars flyby mission for 2018 as cheaply, safely and simply as possible. All other design variables are open.  Alumni, professors and other university staff may participate as well, but the teams must be predominantly composed of and led by students. All competition presentations must be completed exclusively by students. Teams will be required to submit their design reports in writing by March 15, 2014. From there, a down-select will occur with the top 10 finalist teams invited to present and defend their designs before a panel of six judges chosen (two each) by the Mars Society, Inspiration Mars and NASA. The presentations will take place during a public event at NASA Ames Research Center in April 2014.

Designs will be evaluated using a scoring system, allocating a maximum of 30 points for cost, 30 points for technical quality of the design, 20 points for operational simplicity and 20 points for schedule with a maximum total of 100 points. The first place team will receive a prize of $10,000, an all-expenses paid trip to the 2014 International Mars Society Convention and a trophy to be presented by Dennis Tito at that event. Prizes of $5,000, $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 will also be awarded for second through fifth place.  All designs submitted will be published, and Inspiration Mars will be given non-exclusive rights to make use of any ideas contained therein.

Commenting on the contest, Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin said, “The Mars Society is delighted to lead this effort. This contest will provide an opportunity for legions of young engineers to directly contribute their talent to this breakthrough project to open the space frontier.”

For more information on any of the above competitions email us at

[Images: Chuck McMurray, The Mars Society, Inspiration Mars]