2014-18: Teams Announced for NASA 2015 Robotics Operations Competition

2014-18: Teams Announced for NASA 2015 Robotics Operations Competition

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — November 14, 2014

Harla Sherwood
National Institute of Aerospace, Hampton, Va.

Kathy Barnstorff
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.

NIA Release: 2014-18


Eight universities have advanced to the next round of “RASC-AL Robo-Ops,” a planetary rover robotics engineering competition sponsored by NASA and organized by the National Institute of Aerospace.

The teams selected are California State University Long Beach, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; San Jose State University in California; University of Buffalo in New York; University of Maryland, College Park; University of Utah, Salt Lake City; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg; and West Virginia University, Morgantown.

The 5th Annual Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Exploration Robo-Ops is an engineering design competition sponsored by NASA’s Human Exploration Operations and Missions Directorate and led by Pat Troutman with the Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

“We had a good problem this year, eight slots and almost thirty proposals to fill them. Balancing infusion of innovation against design and operations evolution was a challenge in selecting this year’s finalists,” said Pat Troutman, Human Exploration Strategic Analysis Lead for NASA Langley. “The final eight teams will be extremely competitive, so the course will be a bit more challenging than in the past. Now is the time to push the envelope, and we are confident that these teams will deliver.”

During the contest, multi-disciplinary graduate and undergraduate teams are challenged to design and build a planetary rover and demonstrate its ability to perform a series of competitive tasks in an environment that shares characteristics with the surface of the moon and Mars. NASA uses the “Rock Yard” facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to simulate the rough terrain of other worlds during space mission surface operations training.

The big challenge, much like real planetary research, is that students will have to control their creations from afar. Cameras will transmit video from the rovers during the competition at the Rock Yard back to the universities and to the general public. The teams will have to rely on these video feeds, complete with communications delays, to serve as the rover’s “eyes and ears.” Much like NASA does in real life each team will try to meet specific goals while navigating obstacles under the watchful eyes of the public, which will be able to view the live video.

The Rock Yard segment of the RASC-AL Exploration Robo-Ops contest is worth almost two-thirds of each team’s final score. Teams will also be evaluated on the results of their efforts to develop creative public and stakeholder engagement activities related to the competition that demonstrate participatory exploration approaches for future NASA missions. This includes a team blog and a social media presence designed to spark interest from students and the public in planetary exploration and robotics, and their importance in our society.

This selection is the first major milestone in a nine-month development and testing effort for the eight teams. Throughout the 2014-2015 academic year, the teams must meet a series of development check-points to determine that they are on-target to have functioning rovers that can successfully complete all portions of the on-site competition, which is held in June.

By participating in this challenging hands-on competition, students receive real-world experience that parallels what NASA professionals are doing today. Robo-Ops contributes to NASA’s efforts to develop a highly skilled workforce, while also obtaining innovative ideas from some of the best student minds in the country.

“Everyone wins here,” says Troutman. “NASA gets ideas now on how to best configure future missions and the students get to work on the very NASA missions that they will be in charge of a decade from now.”

NASA provides each team with up to $10,000 in seed funding to facilitate rover development. Teams often obtain additional funds from external sponsors to cover the remaining costs, which can approach $100,000 in some cases. Cash prizes are awarded to the top three placing teams, with a total prize purse of $12,000.

For more information about the RASC-AL Exploration Robo-Ops competition, visit:

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2014-17: NIA, NIAR Assists NASA with Sensor Research

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — November 4, 2014

Harla Sherwood
National Institute of Aerospace, Hampton, Va.

Tracee Friess
Wichita State University, Wichita, Ks.

NIA Release: 2014-17

NIA, NIAR assists NASA with Sensor Research

The National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) and National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University is assisting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on research involving a new NASA-developed wireless sensor technology sensor that could revolutionize aircraft health monitoring.

NIAR is working with NIA and NASA engineers to conduct analysis and simulation to optimize the Sans Electrical Connection (SansEC) Smart Skin Design for use on composite aircraft structures. The SansEC sensor is a wireless electromagnetic resonator that can sense changes in electromagnetic impedance of the materials in its close proximity.

The sensor has also been proven to provide aircraft lightning strike protection, damage detection and diagnoses. NIAR will help develop, test and certify the sensor. Paul Jonas, director of the NIAR’s Environmental Test labs, is the project lead.

“What makes this sensor so exciting is that we can use it in conjunction with the existing copper material typically used for lightning strike protection and gain all of the additional functionality of the sensor while providing equal or better lightning strike protection,” said Jonas. “NIAR has developed a strong analytical capability in the field of indirect effects of lightning and the support of this sensor falls directly in the center of that expertise.”

In addition, NIAR has a strong core in composite materials which will be essential in optimizing the processes required to integrate the SansEC sensor into structure seamlessly.

“The SansEC sensor has other implications as well,” said Jonas. “Imagine a fuel gauge that doesn’t have to be located inside the fuel tank.” Because the sensor is wireless, it can be placed on the outside of the tank and still use electromagnetic property changes to sense the addition or removal of fuel from the tank.

“This work will further strengthen our capability in aircraft lightning protection, test and analysis,” said Jonas. “Being directly tied to industry in developing new materials and products is truly unique. This is groundbreaking technology and we are honored to be teamed with NIA and NASA on this project.”

For more information about the National Institute of Aerospace, visit:



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