UH Hilo Space Robotics Team Heading To NASA Robotics Competition At Kennedy Space Center
student with robotic vehicle
The UH Hilo Space Robotics Team, from left, Carli Hand, Joerg Michael Weber, Ethan Paguirigan, Daryl Albano, Derek Hand and Stephanie Mapes. (photo by Marc Roberts)

The University Space Robotics Team from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo is heading to Kennedy Space Center, Florida, for the team’s inaugural appearance at the <NASA Robotic Mining Competition event, May 16–20. The competition is for university-level students to design and build a mining robot that can traverse the simulated Martian chaotic terrain.

The team is comprised of UH Hilo students Ethan Paguirigan, Carli Hand, Daryl Albano, Derek Hand, Stephane Mapes and Michael Weber with faculty team leader Marc Roberts. Roberts is a lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the physics lab coordinator and also works at the Maunakea Visitor Information Center running the Remote Imaging Program to ʻImiloa Astronomy Center.

The team’s mining robot (named “Spock” after a famous Vulcan), will collect and navigate avoiding obstacles to scoop Mars regolith simulant, then transport to the collection bin at the starting gate within a 10 minute competition heat. This open design event is crucial to NASA’s Journey to Mars—it is the first step in ISRU (in-situ resource utilization) where materials found in space are processed into needed resources such as oxygen, water, rocket fuel and construction materials.

The University Space Robotics Team has come a long way from initial designs, testing various prototypes and learning associated skills like Auto CAD, linux/arduino programming, machining and electronics, mostly via their extra-curricular work.

After a false start last year—their robot was not ready in time for RMC 2015 and did not make it to Florida—the team regrouped and performed successfully at the local Robotic International Space Mining competition in July 2015 at a Mars analog site on Hawaiʻi Island.

Space Robotics Club sponsor

The Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) has been promoting college-level robotics at UH Hilo by sponsoring the Space Robotics Club for the past four years, and fielding an robotic mining competition team for the past two.

John Hamilton, logistics and education/public outreach manager at PISCES and an instructor with the UH Hilo physics and astronomy department, is the club faculty advisor and an invited judge at the NASA competition for four years.

Read the UH Hilo Stories article for more information. (Adapted from an article in the PISCES Newsletter, with permission. The UH Hilo Stories post has been revised with additional information and clarifications.)

The UH Hilo robot was blessed on May 6 by Kahuna Nui Kimo Pihana, a cultural practitioner and former Maunakea ranger. (UH Hilo courtesy photo)

From UH Hilo Stories