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Team LEVITATE represents UW-Madison in national aerospace competition

Team members (left to right) at the RASC-AL competition in Cocoa Beach, Florida: Tim Feyereisen, Kevin Hart, Adam Koch, Tyler Tallman and Ben Conrad.
Team members (left to right) at the RASC-AL competition in Cocoa Beach, Florida: Tim Feyereisen, Kevin Hart, Adam Koch, Tyler Tallman and Ben Conrad. Larger Image

One small step for man. One giant leap for Madison.

Five University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduate engineering mechanics and astronautics (EMA) students took their leaping lunar-vehicle design to a national aerospace competition. This was the university’s first appearance in the RASC-AL competition (Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Competition–Academic Linkage), which challenges engineering students across the nation to create a design for a revolutionary aerospace idea.

They call themselves “Team LEVITATE” based on the acronym for their vehicle—Lunar Exploration Vehicle for Intra-planetary Transport and Terrestrial Expansion. Team member and recent graduate Kevin Hart came up with the name where many great ideas come from—the shower.

The team traveled to Cocoa Beach, Florida, in June to present its design in the National Institute of Aerospace-sponsored competition to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other industry judges. Although the team didn’t win the competition, Hart says it was a valuable experience. “It was great to meet such interesting people to network with and share ideas about the future of the moon,” says Hart. “I have no doubt that we will live there one day.”

However, that “one day” is unknown. Hart says that according to NASA’s Augustine Report, experts say there are currently two methods for creating a lunar settlement. The first is to establish a permanent base at the moon’s south pole and travel to other locations within a restricted radius, generally a few kilometers. The second option is to land at different points on the moon and return to Earth with cargo after research is conducted, similar to the first Apollo missions.

The LEVITATE vehicle design includes the structure (blue), hydrogen tanks (silver), oxygen tanks (red), engine (gold) and the astronaut habitat (aqua).
The LEVITATE vehicle design includes the structure (blue), hydrogen tanks (silver), oxygen tanks (red), engine (gold) and the astronaut habitat (aqua). Larger Image

Team LEVITATE has a plan to enable both visions and inhabit the moon. Its concept vehicle is equipped to transport two astronauts from a permanent lunar base to anywhere on the moon’s surface for up to 14 Earth days. This allows ample time to conduct research, after which, the astronauts return to the base with cargo to analyze and refuel for the next mission.

The team designed the vehicle in Engineering Physics and Mechanical Engineering Adjunct Professor Frederick Elder’s EMA 569 course, which challenged students to design a vehicle capable of transporting 500 pounds of cargo through either water, atmosphere or space. The team researched and designed the rest of the details under Elder’s guidance.

“Professor Elder gave us the ability to create good, quality technical drawings,” says Hart. “He emphasized that a good drawing includes every detail from excellent materials to appropriate standards of assembly.” The team divided its design work into four major areas: propulsion, structure, habitat and crew environment, and life support systems.

Hart and the team not only perfected their technical drawing abilities, but their presentation skills, too—which, he says, is something all engineers need. “The competition allowed us be the ‘salesmen’ of our product,” says Hart. “You can have a great idea but if you can’t express it, it doesn’t matter.”

Hart previously worked at Orbitec, a Madison-based orbital technologies company, designing life support systems. He will pursue a graduate degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign next fall studying self-healing materials.

“This may be the last space-related thing I do, but who knows?” he says. “Maybe a material I work on could go into a shuttle in the future.”

Hart’s teammates include Ben Conrad, Adam Koch, Tim Feyereisen and Tyler Tallman.

Andrea Parins
7/6/2010