Operation Moon Dust


2013 Lunabotics Team members.

When scientists devised a way to extract oxygen from moon dust a few years ago, NASA's annual Lunabotics Mining competition became the crux of the gritty matter. Through the contest, NASA challenges student engineering teams from colleges around the country to design a robot that can mine and deposit the precious powder with precision and efficiency. Enter STACEE, The University of Akron 2013 Lunabotics Team's 55-kilogram lunabot.

After a year in the making, STACEE (systematic, technical, automation, collecting, extraterrestrial, elements) is ready to roll in a sand pit May 20 to May 24 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will be expected to excavate and deposit simulated lunar sand: 10 kilograms in 10 minutes or less.

Nineteen UA students majoring in mechanical, electrical and computer engineering have worked for the past year to develop STACEE to run via remote control and, potentially, autonomously.

Team captain Ben Chaffee, a mechanical engineering major from Macedonia, says STACEE's design exudes simplicity.

Simplicity is key

"Our lunabot has only three moving parts," Chaffee says, pointing to the robot's bucket and two treads embellished with cutouts of the UA logo and mascot Zippy's silhouette. "The reason we kept the design simple was to increase STACEE's reliability. Less moving parts equals a lower chance of failure."

In addition, STACEE's "modular design allows for easy repair or replacement of parts," says Chaffee, as he pops a circuit box off of the robot's frame.

Team members had fun creating mini STACEEs in the form of LEGO kits for children.

The lunabot's built-in infrared light sensors allow it to detect and avoid obstacles such as rocks and craters. Other features, including a slightly pointed bucket to scoop up deep mounds of sand and transport the heaps with minimal dust kick-up, help give the robot its competitive edge.

STACEE has a 'mini-me'

In addition to full-size STACEE, the UA Lunabotics team created mini STACEEs in the form of LEGO kits for children. The building blocks bring Chaffee back to his own childhood, occupied for countless hours by LEGO bricks scattered about the basement floor and awaiting his two small hands to build them into creations.

Chaffee says that although he didn’t have an engineer role model who left footsteps for him to follow as a child, he did have an occasional LEGO catch under his own footsteps and, consequently, catch his interest.


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Media contact: Denise Henry, 330-972-6477 or henryd@uakron.edu.