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Stockbridge High engineers shoot for the moon designing lunar rover

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Kevin Lavery
The Stockbridge InvenTeam is one of 91 student teams from around the world taking part in NASA's Human Exploration Rover Challenge. From Left: Kaden Carpenter, Alayna Adkins, Brooklyn Rochow, Bryton Breese, Ben Chapman, Hythem Beydoun, Jack Hammerberg, Brock Rochow, Eliana Johnson, Bob Richards (instructor). Sitting: D.J. Chapman, Brianna Polenz

It’s been nearly 50 years since the last time human beings walked on the Moon. Now, as NASA plans a return with Project Artemis in 2024, a team of high school engineers from mid-Michigan is hoping to make its own small step towards that giant leap.

“Because of COVID, we’ve been ‘grounded,’ if you will and stuck in school. So, we decided to reach and do something different, but still use the same engineering skills.”
Bob Richards, Stockbridge High School

Bob Richards’ science lab is a place where adventures are born. In his STEM workshop at Stockbridge High School, an elite group of young engineers gathers each day.

The exploits of the Stockbridge InvenTeam are legendary. Over the years, students have built deep-sea submersibles that have helped find downed aircraft in the South Pacific. They’ve earned a patent for an underwater camera and designed robotic farm technology.

Now, Richards’ team is shooting for the moon in a bid to design a next-generation lunar vehicle.

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Kevin Lavery, WKAR
Stockbridge High School students Jack Hammerberg (left) and Brock Rochow watch as a CNC router cuts out a wheel.

“It’s something new for us,” Richards said. “Because of COVID, we’ve been ‘grounded,’ if you will, and stuck in school. So, we decided to reach and do something different, but still use the same engineering skills.”

Stockbridge is participating in NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge. 91 international student teams are competing to build a human-powered rover able to perform a series of tasks on simulated lunar terrain.

Stockbridge is the only Michigan high school in the challenge. The team is spending much of its time on the rover’s wheels. Each team must fabricate its own, including treads, from scratch.

Student Jack Hammerberg says it takes trial and error to determine the best design for the Moon’s cratered surface.

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Kevin Lavery, WKAR
Students Brianna Polenz (left) and Alayna Adkins design parts for the rover with a laser cutting machine.

“We don’t know immediately, obviously; that’s where the engineering process comes in,” Hammerberg said. “But we try out a lot of different ideas and see which ones work the best, and then we incorporate all those different ideas into one product.”

The Stockbridge rover resembles a two-seater bicycle, go-kart hybrid. For now, foot pedals and a chain supply power to the rear wheels. But the team wants more efficiency.

D.J. Chapman shows off a PVC pipe framework that could provide a solution.

“This is a mockup of an independent front suspension for the rover, so we can work on adding four-wheel drive,” he said. 

The students only began work on the rover in early October, but student Eliana Johnson is already impressed.

“I can’t believe we made it this far,” Johnson admitted. “Honestly, I didn’t think we’d even be able to make it outside, but I’m just so proud of the progress that we have right now.”

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Kevin Lavery, WKAR
Students Brianna Polenz (left) and D.J. Chapman drive an early version of the Stockbridge InvenTeam lunar rover.

The Stockbridge InvenTeam is keeping in touch with NASA throughout the school year. In a few weeks, the students will try out their technical writing skills when they submit a required design review.

The team expects to have an improved rover design by January.

The Human Exploration Rover Challenge will be held next April at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

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