The CSULB Space Sharks Prepare for Year 2 of NASA Mining Robot Competition

Student teams entering a NASA competition to build a mining robot can expect technical challenges. But in addition to engineering glitches, last year’s CSULB Lunabotics team had to contend with a government shutdown, sudden venue change, and last-minute scramble for funding.

Dehwei Hsu, the mechanical engineering senior who led last year’s FortyMiners team, said the robot’s design and development was already behind schedule when the government shutdown forced NASA to cancel the scheduled competition at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Teams still submitted reports and a slide presentation, but instead of the onsite competition in Florida, University of Alabama hosted a Robotic Mining Challenge at its Tuscaloosa campus.

“Instead of Florida, it was Alabama,” said Hsu, who was previously the rover lead for Long Beach Rocketry. “The only problem was we were funded for Florida, but not for Alabama.”

Alabama is among 11 non-LGBTQ-friendly states where California funds can’t be used for travel. In light of that, the FortyMiners scaled back their contingent to four people. In addition to raising money for the team’s travel, they had to secure $1,200 to ship the robot there and back.

The FortyMiners came in 26th out of 46 schools in the virtual competition. Of the 27 schools competing onsite, only nine robots ran, and three autonomously.

This year, the team has a new name (the Space Sharks), a new design, and 20 new members, drawn from computer science and aerospace, electrical, and mechanical engineering. They are assigned to subteams for drivetrain, excavation, and electronics.

Providing students practical experience in the engineering lifecycle, from concept development to system closeout, Lunabotics supports NASA’s Artemis program, which aims for a 2024 moon landing and sustainable exploration by 2028 as part of the Moon to Mars mission.

On the lunar surface, NASA plans to demonstrate technologies, expand commercial opportunities for deeper space exploration, and test methods to obtain water from ice and other natural resources. The water discovered at the lunar poles will be key to humans living in space.

The teams must present their robot and design philosophy at the competition, submit a systems engineering paper explaining their methodology, perform public outreach for underserved and underrepresented K-12 students, and design, build and compete a robot to simulate an off-world mining mission.

The robot must be no more than 1 meter long and 60 kilograms in weight. The goal is for it to run autonomously for 15 minutes, navigating rough and icy terrain simulating the lunar surface. Hsu said the Space Sharks are aiming for one cycle of autonomy, and remote controlling the robot for the rest of the 15 minutes.

The competition will take place from May 18-22 at the Kennedy Space Center. Lunabotics, formerly called the NASA Robot Mining Competition, is just one of several NASA student competitions. In 2015 and 2016, CSULB competed in the NASA RASC-AL Robo-Ops Competition to design and build a Mars rover.

The Space Sharks hope to bring 20 people—about half of the team—to Florida at a cost of $12,000. Participating in the competition is an intense experience. Hsu said team members who attend the competition usually end up staying on with the team.

Even with the team scouring the Internet for rock-bottom parts prices and picking up their aluminum from the M&K Metals scrap yard, the robot will still cost $4,000 to design and build. The Associated Engineering Student Body, the College of Engineering, and team advisor, Dr. Praveen Shankar, are all contributing funds.

But if the team hopes to reach its goal to send 20 students to Florida, more fundraising will be needed.

Rani Hanna, business lead on the electrical team, said he is applying for grant proposals and looking to local companies to supply some parts.

Last year’s team learned a lot about what to do when things go wrong, which is typical during a team’s first year of participation in a particular competition. The mechanical subteam had difficulties last year with the design. The delays turned out to be caused, in part, by a defective motor driver that kept burning out the board. But that left the electrical team with only one week to wire it up, and the coding team less than a week for testing.

The defective part was identified as the culprit the third time it burned out the board, but by then it was too late to fix it, since the robot had to be shipped.

“It seemed like the deck was stacked against us,” said Hsu, adding that he didn’t want to let their advisor down. “We learned our lesson last year, and that’s that you should design the whole thing before building it.”

Another challenge was that the competition was held a week before final exams. Hsu was accompanied by Jessica Crisantes, the mechatronics lead; John Cayabyab; and Spencer Jehlik, the drivetrain lead. To get help with the coding, they Facetimed coding lead Christopher Senner and electrical lead Alexander Littleton back in Long Beach.

When they arrived at the competition, the robot wasn’t working. Eventually, they got all four wheels moving—amid cheers from fellow competitors. Hsu said the FortyMiners used every minute of their pit time. After the pit closed at 11 p.m., they went back to their hotel rooms to study for finals.

The competition schedule was changed, leaving the CSULB team with so little time to get to the airport that they missed their flight. They spent a night in the airport waiting for a standby flight home.

“This year, the rover is way more complete,” said Hsu, who is serving as systems engineer on this year’s team. “It’s fully functional. The electrical engineer is making a printed circuit board. We’ll get rid of the rat’s nest of wiring. It should be a huge improvement.”

Participating in the Space Sharks gives students an opportunity to work on a multidisciplinary team, solve problems, and apply theory.

“When you join a student organization, you learn valuable technical skills,” said business lead Rani Hanna, a freshman electrical engineering major. Where are you going to get technical skills like this if you don’t have an internship?”

Hsu agrees. “I tell the new people—last year’s team got jobs. That gets their attention.” He describes his teammates as “a group of close friends willing to work with each other for long hours.”

For more information on the Space Sharks, visit their webpage at https://beachrmc.com/. Or follow the team on Instagram at csulb.rmc.

MAE Student Receives Scholarship to Present Paper at AIAA Conference

David Ramirez headshot

CSULB Aerospace Engineering major David Ramirez learned about the importance of getting involved back when he was a student at Cerritos College. He served as a student senator there, then ran for vice president of the Associated Students of Cerritos College.

“While I was VP, that’s when things really changed,” said Ramirez, who worked on student success and DACA issues and succeeded in getting a funding bill passed to enable 10 noncitizen students to participate in a NASA competition. “That experience opened my eyes to the importance of getting involved—past the books.” Continue reading “MAE Student Receives Scholarship to Present Paper at AIAA Conference”

Boeing Holds Interview Sessions for Its BCA-SoCal Student Engineering Program

There was strong interest Wednesday in a Boeing program that gives engineering students a chance to gain up to a year of job experience. The BCA-SoCal Student Engineering Program is open to juniors and seniors who are U.S. citizens, have a GPA of 3.0 or above, and are studying aerospace, civil, electrical, or mechanical engineering.

Dozens of students brought their resumes and dressed for success for a chance to be interviewed for one of 15 positions in Boeing’s Long Beach and Seal Beach facilities. The positions are full-time during summer and 20 hours per week during the school year. Seven hires will work at the Long Beach facility and the remainder in Seal Beach. Continue reading “Boeing Holds Interview Sessions for Its BCA-SoCal Student Engineering Program”

ME Alumni Shares His Experience as R&D Test Engineer at Northrop Grumman

Mechanical engineering alumni Bryan Calungcagin, now a research and development test engineer with Northrop Grumman, returned to campus Wednesday with some advice. All that theory in courses like power plant design, control systems, and finite element analysis? Students are actually going to need it once they start working in the engineering field. Continue reading “ME Alumni Shares His Experience as R&D Test Engineer at Northrop Grumman”

Engineering Distinguished Lecture Panel on the New Face of Engineering in 2030

Will artificial intelligence put people out of jobs? Is the idea of working for one company your entire career obsolete? Will the engineering field include previously underrepresented groups? And how important are so-called soft skills?

These are some of the questions tackled by the industry panel at Thursday’s Engineering Distinguished Lecture, which was timed to coincide with CSULB’s Imagine BEACH 2030 crowdsourcing campaign to examine the future. Continue reading “Engineering Distinguished Lecture Panel on the New Face of Engineering in 2030”

Northrop Grumman Holds Resume Workshop for Post-Military Students

Five veterans attend a resume workshopIf you’ve served in the military, you probably have a long list of accomplishments to include on your resume. But those acronym-rich descriptions can require some translating to make sense to civilian hiring managers.

On Monday, recruiters from Northrop-Grumman were at the CSULB College of Engineering to help veterans present their military experience in a way that  stands out for hiring managers going through stacks of resumes.

“The resume workshop for veterans offered tips on how to translate a military background to a civilian-friendly resume,” said Eddie Jimenez, a Northrop Grumman university relations specialist. “The idea is to help them create better resumes.” Continue reading “Northrop Grumman Holds Resume Workshop for Post-Military Students”

Turbine and Suspension Systems Take Top Awards at Engineering Expo

A locomotive suspension system for harsh environments was chosen as the most innovative and practical design and a turbine in-pipe system as the best design for sustainable and clean energy harvesting at the Engineering Innovation Expo Monday.

The showcase in the University Student Union included 22 Senior Design Projects from the CSULB Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Department.

The pico hydroelectric turbine-in-pipe system uses excess pressure within residential-scale pipe systems to harvest electricity off-the-grid. The system consists of a reaction turbine, generator, and auxiliary electrical equipment. The electrical equipment is dependent upon the application which can include powering outdoor lights or charging small electronics. Additionally, the design of the system will keep the flow rate and pressure of the water entering the household in compliance with standards for potable water systems.

Team members include Cristina Azuara, Hope Daley, Elyssa Lawrence, and Daisy Zaragoza. Continue reading “Turbine and Suspension Systems Take Top Awards at Engineering Expo”

Sticking with STEM Means Limitless Possibilities for Future Careers

Panelists at the Science Extravaganza all had the same message for middle-school students: stick with STEM for a career with limitless opportunities.

Hosted by the CSULB chapter of MAES, the second annual event drew nearly 300 students from Perry Lindsey, Stephens, and Franklin Classical middle schools, as well as volunteers from The Aerospace Corp., Boeing, and other companies and student organizations.

“We need to help schools that serve underrepresented groups, and have limited funding and limited STEM,” said Anthony Ramirez, MAES CSULB Chapter Co-President and a CSULB aerospace engineering major. Continue reading “Sticking with STEM Means Limitless Possibilities for Future Careers”

Technical Seminar: Understanding the Flight of the Boomerang

Associate Dean of Research & Graduate Programs Hamid Rahai left, welcomes John Vassberg to CSULB.

Have you ever wondered how boomerangs fly? John Vassberg has. One of Boeing’s top aerodynamicists, Vassberg was at CSULB Friday to deliver one his most popular lectures—one that delves into the aerodynamic capabilities of a hunting tool developed by Aboriginal Australians thousands of years ago.

“It’s turned out to be a cult classic,” said Vassberg, who has given the talk in Paris and Brussels and at Caltech and University of Southern California. “Maybe I’ll teach you something so you’ll have something to do over the weekend,” he told faculty and students at the Spring Technical Seminar.

Now Technical Lead and Chief Aerodynamicist of Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ Advanced Concepts Design Center in Southern California, Vassberg did the research back in 2012 when he was asked to present at an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) conference. Continue reading “Technical Seminar: Understanding the Flight of the Boomerang”

Boeing Technical Fellow to Discuss Boomerang Aerodynamics

Boeing Technical Fellow John Vassberg will discuss the aerodynamic characteristics and flight dynamics of boomerangs at the Spring Technical Seminar at noon on Friday, Feb. 23 in the Niggli Conference Center (ECS-312). Students and faculty are invited to attend.

Dr. Vassberg will explain how blade theory can be used to expand upon a basic aerodynamic model developed in the 1960s. The new aerodynamic model is coupled with a gyroscope model for rudimentary analyses. The approach has generated significant findings regarding the radius of a boomerang’s circular flight path, the required inclination angle of its axis-of-rotation, its trim state, as well as its dynamic stability. These discoveries provide a basic understanding of how the interplay between aerodynamic forces and moments, and gyroscopic precession combine to return the boomerang to its rightful owner by way of a circular flight path. Continue reading “Boeing Technical Fellow to Discuss Boomerang Aerodynamics”