The Tech Challenge 2013
Our solar system has eight planets and several dwarf planets rotating around the sun. In addition to the planets, there are also millions of asteroids rotating about the sun. Asteroids vary in size from small rocks to rock-like objects with dimensions measured in miles. Most of them are located in what is known as the asteroid belt. This a region of space located between the orbits of planets Mars and Jupiter.
Solar system experts think that asteroids may contain extensive deposits of very valuable and rare minerals. Examples would be the metals known as rare earths – gallium, rhodium, platinum, and others. Many of the high tech products that mankind has developed in the last few years are critically dependent on these materials. One example is the extensive use of platinum in the catalytic converters used in automobile exhaust systems to minimize the pollutants released into the air.
Because the Earth has limited deposits of these critically important materials, it is possible that mankind will eventually use up the available supply. This possibility has lead scientists and engineers to consider the feasibility of sending mining missions to selected asteroids and returning valuable minerals to the Earth.
The first step in an ambitious program like this would be to send an unmanned probe to an asteroid to determine the extent to which it contains valuable minerals The Tech Challenge 2013 (TTC 2013) simulates an earth-based test that supports this idea and is based on the following scenario.
An unmanned spacecraft has been launched from Earth and has successfully landed on an asteroid. The craft has three packages of instruments that need to be deployed to three different locations on the asteroid. These instruments will evaluate the chemical composition of the asteroid and determine if there are enough valuable materials to justify future mining operations on the asteroid. The instruments are sensitive and need to be protected from significant impacts.
Asteroid gravity is dependent on the size of the asteroid but is a lot less than Earth’s gravity. However, earth-based testing of instrument deployment concepts would be meaningful and will provide guidance to the scientists and engineers designing the spacecraft to be sent to the asteroid. The gravity difference between Earth and an asteroid will be factored into the design of the spacecraft that will actually land on the asteroid.
Specifically, the challenge for TTC 2013 teams is to design a device to safely deploy scientific instruments from the landed spacecraft to three specific areas on the asteroid. These areas are called the landing areas. Your challenge also includes designing proper packaging to protect the scientific devices (eggs) from being damaged (egg breakage) Success will be to land one undamaged instrument package on each of the three landing areas and to do this in three minutes or less. The Tech will provide the layout for the teams to test their device on; this is called the Test Rig.
The Test Rig dimensions and description can be found here. The Test Rig consists of a central platform on which the spacecraft has landed. There are three clearly defined landing areas at different distances from the landing site to which the instrument packages must be deployed. These landing areas have different surfaces, varying from soft sand to jagged rock. The landing areas will be assigned different degrees of difficulty and this will influence the scoring of device performance.