Hypothesized Surface: Robotic Explorer – MSU


Michigan State University


Copper Class (Fall 2021)


James Provax, Mechanical Engineering
Justin Yan, Mechanical Engineering
Josh Bravo, Mechanical Engineering
Tahha Zahid, Mechanical Engineering
Aaron Rakowski, Mechanical Engineering


Dr. Lik Chuan Lee, Associate Professor, College of Engineering, MSU


The NASA Psyche mission is set to launch in 2022 and arrive at the asteroid in 2026. It is an orbiter mission and will not land on the surface. It is possible to imagine, however, that after learning about Psyche from orbit, there may be scientists and engineers interested in proposing a subsequent mission to actually land on the asteroid. Designing to the range of hypothesized surfaces and terrain that might be found at Psyche (and keeping in mind other constraints such as its gravity), the team considered this future possibilitiy and designed a robotic explorer capable of traversing the hypothesized surfaces of the asteroid.

A rendering of a 6-wheeled rover design on a shiny, rocky terrain.

Final rover design

Psyche’s unique characteristics served as the constraints of the robotic explorer design. The hypothesized nickel-iron component of the surface dictated the material used for wheel and tire design. The topography of Psyche’s surface may consist of sharp crater rims and large angles of repose of slopes and hills. These features were taken into consideration to ensure the robotic explorer could navigate any challenging terrain. Additionally, Psyche’s low gravitational field in comparison to Earth and Mars impacted the entire design of the robotic explorer.

This work was created in partial fulfillment of Michigan State University Capstone Course “ME 481”. The work is a result of the Psyche Student Collaborations component of NASA’s Psyche Mission (https://psyche.asu.edu). “Psyche: A Journey to a Metal World” [Contract number NNM16AA09C] is part of the NASA Discovery Program mission to solar system targets. Trade names and trademarks of ASU and NASA are used in this work for identification only. Their usage does not constitute an official endorsement, either expressed or implied, by Arizona State University or National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of ASU or NASA.