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Engineering Students Seek a Second Win in NASA Competition

February 21, 2020

By Julie Bonette

For the second consecutive year, a team of Dartmouth engineering students has been named a finalist in NASA's Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge. For this year's competition, NASA sought innovative ideas that will support exploration of the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) in and near the Moon’s polar regions.

The Dartmouth team’s idea, "SHREWs: Strategic Highly-compliant Roving Explorers of other Worlds," focuses on mobility achieved through a class of robots able to latch on to each other to minimize the chance of getting stuck or having to be rescued. The team took inspiration from shrews, who latch onto each others' tails, forming a train or caravan, in order to move in a quick and orderly fashion. 

SHREWs: Strategic Highly-compliant Roving Explorers of other Worlds

SHREWs: Strategic Highly-compliant Roving Explorers of other Worlds
"SHREWs: Strategic Highly-compliant Roving Explorers of other Worlds" was inspired by shrews who gain mobility by latching onto each others' tails, forming a train or caravan.

"Lunar and planetary exploration is the next frontier, so it’s pretty exciting," said Laura Ray, Professor of Engineering and Senior Associate Dean of Faculty Development at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth. "I think this is almost a once-in-a-career opportunity, but here we are again, so I'm pretty proud of being finalists two years in a row." 

A team of undergraduate Dartmouth students won last year’s BIG Idea Challenge for its innovative design of a Mars greenhouse that can grow and sustain a crew of astronauts on a future mission to the red planet. This year, Dartmouth is one of eight finalist institutions; only two of those institutions were also named finalists last year. Ray is once again serving as faculty advisor to the students, none of whom competed last year. 

Dartmouth’s 2020 team includes both undergraduate and graduate students who work in Ray's lab:

In the next few months, the team plans to turn their conceptual design into a more detailed design and begin building prototypes. In May, they will submit a mid-project report to NASA in order to receive the second and final portion of their $83,000 grant. Should they pass this review, the team intends to travel to the 2020 BIG Idea Forum in November to present their idea to a panel of NASA and industry experts.

The selected designs could benefit NASA’s Artemis program and be used to study the Moon ahead of a human landing in 2024 or help establish a sustained presence by 2028. Funding is provided by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development (GCD) Program office and NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement’s Space Grant Project.