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NASA selects West Virginia University team to tackle moon, Mars exploration challenges

LEAD PUP and Andrew Rhodes

Artist rendering of the LEAD PUP and Andrew Rhodes, teaching assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering (submitted photos).

A team of 38 undergraduate aerospace engineering students at West Virginia University were selected to tackle moon and Mars exploration challenges by advancing to the final phase of NASA's Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) competition.

Story by Adrianne Uphold, Multi-Media Specialist


The team, led by Andrew Rhodes, teaching assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will present the Lunar Exploration and Artemis Development (LEAD) Portable Utility Pallet (PUP) concept to NASA and aerospace industry leaders.  

LEAD PUP is the university's proposal for a portable utility pilot design to extend the range of autonomous and crewed missions by providing communications to the eventual Artemis base and lunar gateway. It will assist future astronauts by acting as a power supply for autonomous rovers and equipment.   

"The LEAD PUP extends the range capability of crewed or autonomous vehicles on the lunar surface by providing additional communications, power and storage," Rhodes said. "It serves as the resource hub for lunar activities such as long-term habitation, rover travel, resource mining or multi-robot collaboration."  

As NASA looks toward the future of space exploration to the moon through Artemis and beyond to Mars, this team of Mountaineers is developing the necessary technology that could help advance future deep space missions. The team will receive $6,000 to develop the proposals to effectively meet the mission of establishing innovative concepts that allow the expansion of human space exploration, including short-term stays and scientific operations at planetary bodies.   

"The LEAD PUP includes many design ideas to synergistically support lunar exploration around Artemis, including the adjustable suspension that expands the possible locations where the LEAD PUP could be deployed, including sloped and rocky terrain," Rhodes said.  

Rhodes explained that the adjustable suspension also offers a compact stowed configuration to meet the RASC-AL theme storage requirements while also showing a deployed configuration to assist mobility across the lunar terrain.  

The solar array configuration on the LEAD PUP has four independent solar panels, which allows 7.6 square meters of solar cells to fit in the design. The antenna is mounted on a telescoping mast which may be deployed or retracted during various mission scenarios. The mast is covered in Tyvek cloth to prevent lunar regolith—the layer of soil, dust or broken rocks that cover solid rock on the moon—from entering the system. In addition, the antenna and motors are encapsulated in fiberglass radon, which provides a physical barrier to protect the equipment from lunar regolith.  

"The power supply system uses hydrogen fuel cells to power itself and other Artemis hardware," Rhodes said. "Energy captured by the photovoltaic arrays is used to perform electrolysis on the stored water to generate hydrogen gas for the fuel cells. The presence of water ice has been confirmed at the lunar south pole, so the water used for the LEAD PUP energy storage system could be supplied in the future by in-situ resource utilization of lunar water."  

When a future crewed or autonomous rover runs low on power, it will be able to approach a nearby PUP and utilize its wireless charging system capabilities to replenish its charge and continue its mission, enabling longer travel across the lunar surface.   

"Wireless charging makes the LEAD PUP a versatile and adaptable component in support of long-term human presence at the Artemis Base," Rhodes said. “Wireless charging eliminates physical cables susceptible to damage from lunar regolith and is adaptable to future autonomous or crewed vehicles."  

The team will travel to Cocoa Beach, Florida, from June 20-23 to present their design. The top two teams from the forum are invited to attend an aerospace conference.  

"The 2022 Spacecraft Design team has displayed incredible teamwork to design an innovative PUP supporting the Artemis Missions," Rhodes said. “I'm proud of their work and professionalism as they worked through the engineering design process. We are all proud and excited to represent WVU again at the RASC-AL Forum."  

Watch the team’s proposal video.   



Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

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