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Cheetah 3D Printer Filament Helps University of Utah Win NASA Competition

Application: Wheels, belts and other parts for a Mars rover competition
Material used: Cheetah® 3D Printer Filament
Industry: Aerospace, Education

The University of Utah’s Utah Student Robotics (USR) team competed for the fourth time at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for the NASA RMC (Robotic Mining Challenge) May 14-18, 2018. The team won the SSERVI (Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute) Regolith Mechanics Award and took 2nd in the Presentation and Demonstration Award. And they used NinjaTek® Cheetah filament in their rover.

Impressively, they accomplished this with a completely redesigned robot. The redesign was in response to the competition rule changes. Those changes proved challenging and were significant, as they had to move from a surface frontloader to a digging conveyor system, as well as reach the icy regolith within the competition run-time.

NASA RMC tasks more than 50 collegiate teams with building a mining robot and mining gravel from beneath the surface of a simulated Martian terrain.

The competition challenge is to mine the precious icy regolith (gravel). This water ice will provide oxygen, water, and fuel for future off-world colonists. Robots must navigate the difficult and foreign terrain utilizing autonomy, then reaching a dig depth of 12 inches to collect the buried icy regolith and return to deposit material in the collection bin within a 10-minute round.

We used Cheetah TPU in our 3D-printed Tweels, and in a custom printed belt for the conveyor of regolith to the collection bin.

The USR team was composed of about two dozen students from the departments of mechanical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, computer science and engineering, and geology. 11 students from the University made the journey to Cape Canaveral, Florida. This year’s competition went up against an accelerated timetable due to weather delays.

From David Purcell, Geoscientist, and Member of the USR team:
“I can’t express enough gratitude for your donation of Cheetah for our team to use on this year’s rover. We used TPU in our 3D printed Tweels, and in a custom printed belt for the conveyor of regolith to the collection bin. Additionally, we made dual-material motor covers, with the outer shell being TPU for shock absorption, and the inner shells being Nylon 910 for strength and mounting points.”

“Many of the NASA judges had never seen the technique we used to make the secondary conveyor, which was 93 inches long and 16 inches wide; printed on a bed platform only 8×10 inches in size. This was accomplished via a quilting method, where quilt segments were lined up next to each other, and a seam printed across two adjacent pieces. Since the material of the seam was the same as the underlying quilt, and the hot end was at temperature, the segments were both welded and seamed at the same time.”

“Two of the NASA judges, Dr. Phil Metzger, and Michael Johansen from NASA Swamp Works were especially intrigued by our Tweels, as they have seen them in case polyurethane before, but never via additive manufacturing.”

“Our team took third place overall (Out of roughly 46 teams, nationwide), the regolith mechanics innovation award, and second place with regards to the Slide-show and presentation category! We were able to take 11 team members down to Florida with us, with the team consisting of five mechanical engineers, four computer engineers, one electrical engineer, and a geoscientist (Myself).”

“For the upcoming year’s competition (2019), NASA will be announcing a set of new rule changes that will likely require us to change our build design; but until then, we are constantly updating this year’s rover (named the Utah Sand Crawler, due to its similarity to the one seen in “Star Wars”); and using said rover in outreach activities.”

“I would like to thank NinjaTek so much once again for all the help you have given us this past year. I have no doubt that we would not have done as well as we have without your material being available to us.”

NinjaTek stack of 3D printing filament spools

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