Parts and Why We Use Them

Every year, when manufacturing the robot many tools are used! These tools vary widely in appearance and application. Here are just a few of the tools the ISU Lunabotics clubs uses and a brief explanation about them.

  • Injection molder: This part is pretty straight forward; plastic pellets are first taken and melted into a liquid plastic called molten plastic. An aluminum mold is injected full of the molten plastic. The plastic is then allowed to cool making a newly formed plastic component we can then use on the robot. While this process is expensive, as it requires making a custom mold, the pieces produced are more durable than those parts which have been 3D printed.  We use this process to produce our track drive teeth. Go to this link for more information


  • Multimeter: Many components of our robot use electricity. Electrical components have many properties including resistance, voltage, inductance, and current. A multimeter is used to measure these properties. This is important to know in order to ensure that power is properly distributed throughout the robot.  Different components require different amounts of current and voltage.  A multimeter lets us see what components are actually getting and make corrections as needed.


  • Solidworks: Solidworks is our most used tool. Solidworks is not a hand tool or a shop tool, but a program used to create computer aided design components better known as CAD. It is useful to create a CAD version component because it is cheaper than making the part. This allows us to save money and time as we try out different designs and ensure that the parts will fit together.  Also, once the part has been made in CAD we can define its materials thickness and many other important factors. Using this information we can plan the best way to manufacture the part decreasing the chance of defects and making our robot as successful as it can be with the smallest amount of required resources.

Lunabotics: From the Perspective of a Non-Engineer

By Logan Crees 

Being a freshman and a first year member of the club, I really had no idea how I be able to contribute. I found out it was in way I have never would have thought. But first, I should probably explain why someone, not even closely related by major, would want to join. I’m an environmental science major. I have little experience actually working with electronics, let alone a robot. True, I was captain of my high school robotics team, but let’s just say I’m good at managing a team rather than figuring out the math. So, the hardest part in the club was making people aware of the fact that I am robot-incompetent, at best. Coming in and knowing this, I immediately set to work doing the more

IMG_6839mundane task, but ones that were still useful. When elections came around, I ran for the Social Media and Spirit chair. That was one of the best decisions I made all semester, even though I ended up losing to someone who was by far the best fit for the position (also a non-engineer.) She was nice enough to find a way to include me in the position. Just because I work mostly with the media side of things doesn’t mean that I don’t get to do anything with the robot. Now, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll see any parts on the finished robot that I designed; but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have any say in their design. Being part of a couple part design teams, I was able to help solve a couple problems that arose, which makes this simple scientist a little more proud than I really should feel.

Another thing that is really nice about the club, from my perspective, is that is so much different from what I generally do and the people I am usually around. I remember the first work day I went to. We were all in a lab on Solidworks, something I have never use before in my life. It actually took me 40 minutes to figure out how to run the program, let alone get through the first tutorial.

Enough about me and more about the club. The people are great, and the officers pour so much of their time into this club, it’s absolutely amazing. The passion, dedication and teamwork is what really makes this club astounding, nevermind the fact that they are one of the best teams in the nation. I wake up early every Saturday morning and come to work days, not to work as much as to watch the comradery between so many great minds. If you’ve wondered to this post because you’re curious about joining the club. Come to a weekly meeting, introduce yourself to the officers. They love talking about any aspect of the robot. It’s an amazing team to be part of even if you have no idea what you’re doing.


Top 5 Reasons to Join ISU Lunabotics Club

Get Hands On Experience – The Lunabotics Club works every year all year on designing, testing, and20140511_144159 building a new robot.  The hands-on aspect of the club is not only a resume builder, but it’s just plain old fun.

Networking – Due to the club’s success in past competition years, large companies, and potential future employers, donate funds and materials to the ISU Lunabotics Club. Companies like Vermeer, John Deer, Boeing, Caterpillar, and Rockwell Collins have all sponsored the club in years past.

Meet New People – Between work days on Saturdays, meetings on Thursdays, and the week-long trip to Florida everyone get’s to know each other.  It’s amazing how building a robot can bring people together!

Go to Florida…and maybe Hawaii – How many other clubs get to travel to vacation destinations? Not many.  Every summer, club members travel to Florida to Kennedy Space Center to compete in the NASA Robotic Mining Competition, and spend some time on the beach too.

Boost Your Resume – Saying you helped design, test, and build an award winning robot meant to go to Mars019 can only be helpful when searching for employment.  The club also participates in outreach events, works
with sponsors, and writes papers for the competition; all of which help develop a well rounded person and a well rounded resume.

ISU Lunabotics and First Lego League

First Lego League

By Jessica Bales

This Saturday, middle school students from across Iowa will flock to Iowa State Campus. Not to tour the campus or watch a basketball game but to compete in the 16th annual First Lego League (FLL) state championship.

Every year the FLL competition is focused around a challenge. The 2014 challenge is to “redesign how we gather knowledge and skills in the 21st century, teams will teach adults about the ways that kids need and want to learn.”  The students not only design, program, and build a Lego Mindstorm robot, but they also research and propose a solution to a real world problem. FLL

2011 FLL Outreach Event

2011 FLL Outreach Event

Naturally, NASA Robotic Mining teams and FLL are a perfect match! The problem solving skills, technical skills, and teamwork gained through participating in FLL are very similar to the ones necessary to be successful in the NASA Robotic Mining Competition. Oftentimes, members of the Lunabotics club were involved in FLL when they were in middle school. The Lunabotics team is fortunate enough to be on the campus where the state FLL championship is hosted.

The Iowa State Lunabotics team has been doing outreach with FLL since 2011. This year, the ISU Lunabotics Club has given advice to local FLL teams and worked with other teams via blogs and webchats. Over the weekend, the club will be giving tours of the Lunabotics lab for FLL teams and running a session at the state championship.

Learn more about the FLL here!







5 Influential Women in Engineering

By Jessica Bales 


According to the ISU enrollment statistics, fall semester 2014, only 15.2 percent of all engineering students are women.  That percent has remained steady for the past fourteen years.   It is no secret that women are a minority in the engineering field.  Despite women’s lack of presence in the field, they have been contributing to the field since its beginning.  Here is short list of 5 influential women in engineering:

Emily Warren Roebling was a civil engineer in the 19th century. Her husband was the original chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge; however after becoming paralyzed Emily became responsible for his duties.  She became the first female field engineer and lead the team to complete the Brooklyn Bridge.





Beulah Louise Henry, also an engineer in the 19th century, is known as “the lady Edison. She is credited with inventing the bobbin-free sewing machine, a doll with flexible arms, a doll with a radio inside, a typewriter that made copies without carbon paper, a vacuum ice cream freezer, and many other inventions.  She worked as an inventor and consultant for many companies which manufactured her inventions.






Hedy Lamarr, more commonly known as a 1930s and 1940s movie star, was also an inventor during that time. She is credited with inventing a frequency-hopping spread spectrum system of the U.S. Military during World War II. This invention served as the basis for modern technology which is used in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi connections, and wireless telephones.






Stephanie Louse Kwolek’s career at the DuPont Company spanned forty years and affected millions of people. She is most well-known for inventing poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide, or Kevlar, in 1965. For this invention she was the first woman to receive DuPont’s Lavoisier Medal.




Linda Y. Cureton is the current CEO and founder of   Muse Technologies Inc. She is also the former CIO of NASA. During her time at NASA, she served as the principal adviser to NASA, providing insight and leadership to some of the most brilliant scientists and engineers.  She has received numerous awards for her achievements and continues to be a leader in engineering, today.



From the Moon to Mars

By Phil Molnar 

The new rules have been a pretty hot topic on the team these last few months. The rules for the competition are analyzed heavily every year in order to develop our technical requirements, the constraints that drive our design. The addition of icy regolith in particular has been a challenge this year. The icy regolith, which is worth twice as much as the regolith, is obviously a very appealing objective. The difficulty is the depth. We have never seen a team dig deep enough on their own to hit where the icy regolith will be this year, but they never had a reason to. In fact, I would go as far to say that there isn’t an existing design from robots in at least the last 2 years built to effectively collect the icy regolith. This means the challenge given to us by NASA encourages completely new strategy. With rules encourages smart energy usage, I wouldn’t be surprised if the icy regolith is seen as a “siren’s call.” Still, I am excited to see teams attempt it this year! There is a huge opportunity for point profit.

The rules have been set up to make an optimal curve of performance based on weight and collection. If you collect 2.67 times as much regolith as you weigh, you make a profit on your robot. With the icy regolith, you only need 1.33 kg of material collected to robot weight. This means that heavier robots with the goal of collecting the deeper icy regolith have a good shot at being successful. In addition to mining methods that require the extra weight, there is a huge force related to trying to shear a rock from under all of the material above it. My prediction is that icy regolith collectors will be heavier with a very robust gathering system.

The other big changes we are paying a lot of attention to is the change to the autonomy rules. With point rewards equal to 167 kg of regolith or 83 kg of icy regolith, full autonomy is a major focal point in the competition. Where the judges want to see robots develop is autonomous systems that are more intelligent and less likely to fail. The systems must be capable of at least 2 fully autonomous runs in order to achieve maximum points, so a single run and a system failure no longer pass. The judges are also very clear about not using the walls. They have said it a lot. “There will be no walls on Mars.” I agree with that. In fact, I think that in some manner, the statement counters there logic as well. We cannot use the walls to find the robot’s orientation, sense them for navigation or even treat them as avoidable obstacles. They want us to digitally create a barrier in front of them and never see them again. The ruling I would like to see change is in regards to the wall that is in front of the collection bin. The collection bin, on Mars, would have no barriers blocking us. It would stand somewhere between 0.3 and 0.7 meters high, unimpeded by walls. That is 30 to 70 centimeters of detectable and totally usable collection bin. In the competition, we can use the space above the wall, which could be less than 5 centimeters of clearance.

In any case, the new autonomy rules will motivate teams to spend some time thinking about innovative ways to navigate around the arena using both fine and blunt instruments. I think that LIDAR will make a very strong showing this year in obstacle avoidance. I would bet there will be a plethora of visual targets attached to the bin as well. There will be mechanical systems to help make up for where sensors are missing, whether the tech is not ready or cost too much money. The thing I’m excited to see the most are the ideas that I haven’t thought of yet.

Design it. Build it. Dig it.

Philae Landing

By Brian Huk

First touchdown close up
First touchdown close up
How Philae Landed
How Philae Landed

Philae has landed intact on 67P! While the orbiting Rosetta probe is the primary science instrument in the ESA mission to comet 67P, Philae’s successful landing will give scientists the historic opportunity to directly sample the surface of a comet for the first time.

With Rosetta orbiting and Philae on the surface, our understanding of comets is sure to get a huge boost. Scientists will be also be able to analyze data collected from the mission to better understand the formation of our solar system, as well as a detailed look at how comets react to passing nearby the sun.

There’s also folks like us who know that space exploration won’t be able to proceed in a wider scope using resources indefinitely sourced from Earth. To make future missions feasible, eventually the resources needed to fuel them will need to come from off world – from the moon, other planets, asteroids, and even comets like the one Philae just landed on

You can check out some of the scientific instruments onboard both Philae and Rosetta here:


A New Competition Year

NASA has posted the rules for the 2014 Robotic Mining competition. They can be found here.

Our team is looking forward to another great competition year.  We have been working hard getting our new workspace functional and revamping our constitution.  While this hasn’t made for the most exciting meetings and workdays, we are done with the heavy administrative requirements.

Our new space is in the basement of the Nuclear Engineering Laboratory on the ISU campus.  The new location enables us to design and test the robot in the same location rather than having to switch between buildings.  A few things we learned from moving…

  1. We have approximately 350 gallons of regolith simulant.
  2. Smoke/particulate detectors will pick up our regolith should too much get in the air.
  3. LED lights are super nice.
  4. A fresh coat of white paint will do wonders to brighten up a room.

If you are interested in joining the ISU Lunabotics Club or have questions about our group, please contact David Peiffer

Competition Results!

The ISU Lunabotics Club made a very strong showing at the 2013 NASA Lunabotics Mining Competition.  Despite some robot communication challenges, we were able to come in 1st place for the On-Site Mining Award.  Our K-12 STEM outreach program had a strong showing again this year: 3rd overall.  Finally, our team earned 1st place for the Joe Kosmo Award for Excellence.  This award recognizes our success as a strong contender in all aspects of the competition, and is the grand prize of the competition.

In case you missed it, check out our second competition run.

The competition was very strong this year, with more teams qualifying than ever before.  It was very fun to see all of the other designs, meet other teams, and talk with the judges.

A special thanks goes out to our sponsors.  Without their help, none of this would have been possible.  Our sponsors include:

Innovative Software Engineering
John Deere
National Space Grant Foundation
National Instruments
Rockwell Collins
UTC Aerospace Systems

It was a great year for the ISU Lunabotics Club, and with next year already on the horizon, the team is ready to tackle whatever challenges NASA throws at us next year.

Practice Run

Today we attempted a fully autonomous run. After lots of testing on the beach Sunday night, we were hoping for success.  Shortly after the run began, we ran into some autonomy issues and took over in manual mode. About 3 minutes into the 10 minute match we were attempting to deposit the first load of regolith (moon dirt). Two sensors happen to be placed in locations such that it was impossible for our lunabot to know where the LunaBin was.

We ended up driving up the wall, digging the conveyor into the regolith. During this maneuver, one motor began to smoke. We proceeded cautiously. Later after mining the second time, we burned up a motor leaving the robot inoperable.

We spent the evening sourcing new (larger) motors, analyzing video for the root cause of the issue, and determining changes to make operation more reliable.  We are confident with a combination of hardware and software changes we will be able to make another good attempt at full autonomy in our first competition run.