MSU's 2012 Lunabotics Design Project

Program Overview

In this project, the student team will design and implement a robotic lunar regolith excavator. The excavator has 15 minutes to navigate an obstacle area and reach a mining region where it must collect and deposit as much regolith as possible. The robot can be controlled wirelessly using an 802.11 network or autonomously. The interdisciplinary design team will deliver a robot that will compete in the 2012 NASA Lunabotics Mining Competition at Kennedy Space Center in May of 2011. The team will be comprised of students from the ME, MET, CS, and ECE departments.

Link to the NASA Lunabotics Page
Lunabotics Rules (PDF)
Lunabotics Kickoff Webcast (9/27/11) (PDF)

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The Design Team

team 2012
Top Row: Left to Right:
Kevin Love (MET), Daniel Benson (ME), Lars Osborne (ME), Logan Warberg (CS), Alison Figueira (CS), Bethany Higgins (EE)

Bottom Row: Left to Right:
Garth Grubb (EE), Seth Berardinelli (CS)

E-mail the 2012 Team


Left to Right:

Brock LaMeres, Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering
Hunter Lloyd, Faculty, Computer Science
Mike Edens, Adjunct Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering

Engineering Design Process

1. Project Definition & Planning

Mission Objective

  • Build a wirelessly controlled excavation robot to compete in the 2012 NASA Lunabotics Mining Competition that will be designed to capitalize maximize on points from the mining portion of the competition.


  • $3,000


  • (Sept 2011 - May 2012) 

The Design Team

  • Bethany Higgins & Garth Grubb : (Electrical System) 
  • Lars Osborne, Daniel Benson & Kevin Love : (Mechanical System) 
  • Seth Berardinelli, Logan Warberg & Alison Figueira : (Computer System)

2. Requirements Definition & Engineering Specifications

Functional Requirements:

  • autonomously collect and deposit regolith
  • autonomously navigate the obstacle area consisting of randomly placed craters and boulders
  • be able to switch to a manual navigation/mining mode in case of autonomous failure
  • log/store power consumption
  • power sensors and computer system
  • power all mechanical operations
  • protect the system from dust

Performance Requirements:

  • must be able to report "State of Health"
  • provide power for the duration of two attempts
  • must be capable of converting to tele-operation
  • be able to navigate around or over obstacles
  • must be able to make a minimum of 3 mining trips each attempt
  • must be able to capture and transport a minimum of 35 kg of regolith per trip
  • must be capable of evacuating collected regolith

Physical Requirements:

  • must fit in a 0.75 m height x 0.75 m width x 1.5 m length box.
  • must not extend beyond a height of 1.5 m
  • must not exceed 80 kg
  • have a 5 cm kill switch on the surface, with no steps to access
  • must mechanically and electrically interface to a control system while in a tele-operation mode
  • designed for plausible lunar functionality

Reliability Requirements: 

  • must be able to be tested a minimum of 20 times
  • must be able to compete in two contest attempts
  • minimum of two successful tests before competition

3. Concept Generation & Evaluation

4. Critical Design (Product Design)

5. Final Assembly & Test


6. Product Launch


Design Documents

Internal Documents

Systems Engineering Resources


Miniture Lunabotics Mining Competition

For our outreach component, we designed a miniature version of the NASA Lunabotics competition using the LEGO Mindstorm kit and allowed the students to compete against each other in a similar manner to the actual NASA competition. A LEGO Mindstorm robot was constructed to mimic the design of the MSU Lunabotics team. The locomotion of the robot was implemented in a tank configuration with skid steering. The digging and dumping system consisted of a barrel with scoops on it. This type of system allowed digging to be accomplished by spinning the barrel in one direction. The scoops pick up the material and guide it into the middle of the barrel where centripetal force in conjunction with the scoop orientation prevent it from falling out. When the barrel spins in the opposite direction, the material falls out. If the wheel is spun slow enough, the material will fall out the bottom through the scoop openings directly below the barrel due to gravity. The barrel was created with an 8 ounce Pringles can and spun with the 3rd motor on the LEGO Lunabotics kit.

A miniature mining field (24" x 48") was created using foam board. A tent was constructed using craft materials and a webcam was attached to the inside of the tent so that remote operation could be accomplished from an isolated control room. The webcam was connected directly to a computer to show the live feed of the field to the operator. Uncooked red beans were used as the material to be mined. The mining field was located on the east side of the field (where the beans were located) and the collection area was located on the west side (where the beans were deposited). The collection bin was created so that it could be removed and weighted after each competition run.

The robot was controlled using an Xbox360 controller. A wireless Xbox360 controller was interfaced to a laptop using a wireless hub. The laptop then send control commands to the LEGO NXT via Bluetooth. The Microsoft Robotics Studio (MSRS) was used to develop the software on the laptop to receive command from the Xbox360 controller and send them to the robot. The MSRS Visual Programming Language (VPL) was used to develop the software. This development environment provides a "relatively" simple way to develop software and has built in drivers for the majority of NXT components and the Xbox360 controller.

A competition consisted of a practice run followed by a scored run. Each run lasted 2 minutes. In the practice run, the students were allowed to look directly at the competition field. In the scored run, the students had to control the robot using only the webcam view to mimic the setup of the NASA competition. This mimics how a robot on the lunar surface would be controlled from earth.

Video 1 of Operation Showing Xbox360 Controls (MP4, 1m16s)
Video 2 of Operation Showing Textbook Dig/Dump (MP4, 1m16s)
MSRS VPL Source Code to Drive the NXT with an Xbox360 Controller (zip, 19k)

Event #1: Science Night at the Museum of the Rockies (11/17/11)

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Jenny Hane (MSEE student) with her miniture lunabotics demonstration of autonomous mining at the Science Fun Night. The Science Fun Night is the kickoff event for the annual Montana Science Olympiad.

Event #2: Competition with 4th Graders from Irvine Elementary School (1/25/12)

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Over 40 students from Irving Elementary School came to MSU to take part in the robotics outreach event. Students took turns driving the mini lunabot to see how many beans they could collect.

Event #3: Billings Clinic Research Center Science Expo (3/24/12)

 Event 3Event 3

The Billings Clinic Research Center Science Expo is the regional science fair for the 24 counties of southeastern Montana. The Expo consists of two parts; the competition day and the educational outreach day. The venue was the campus of Montana State University - Billings. The theme for Science Expo 2012 is "Space: Infinite Possibilities". To support the theme, the Lunabotics project was invited to be an exhibitor and to provide hands-on science displays to the audience consisting of our 300+ student competitors, their families and the general public.

Past MSU Teams

The 2010 MSU Lunabotics Team ("The Mule")

2010 lunabotics 

Left to Right: Paul Dallapiazza (ME), Jenny Hane (EE), Chris Ching (CS), Brock LaMeres (ECE Advisor), Ben Hogenson (EE), John Ritter (ME), Steve Pemble (MET)

Not Shown: Craig Harne (MET), Phil Karls (EE), Hunter Lloyd (CS Advisor), 

The 2011 MSU Lunabotics Team ("The Mule 2.0")

 2011 Lunabotics

Left to Right: Terrell Thomason (ME), Hunter Lloyd (CS Advisor), Chad Willett (EE), Steve Iobst (MET), Charlie Ferguson (EE), Justin Krohn (CS), Donovan Ferrin (EE), Brock LaMeres (ECE Advisor), Kris Bengston (ME)
Not Shown: Joe Stack (MET), Mike Edens (ME Advisor)