SOLIDWORKS Students Capture Top NASA Award

To engage high school and college students in the next phase of human space exploration, the annual NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge tasks students with designing a human-powered vehicle that can traverse the simulated surface of another world and complete mission tasks along the way. Student teams design, build, and test technologies that enable rovers to perform in various environments.

Teams earn points by successfully completing design reviews, designing and assembling a rover that meets all challenge criteria, and completing course-obstacles mission tasks. The team that accumulates the highest number of points throughout the project year in each category is the winner.

Preparing for the Real Thing

The competition course requires two students, at least one female, to use the student-designed vehicle to traverse a course of approximately a half-mile that includes a simulated field of asteroid debris, boulders, erosion ruts, crevasses, and an ancient streambed. The challenge’s weight and time requirements encourage the design of a compact, lightweight, high performance, and efficient rover.

Rover entries are tested to ensure they fit into a lander storage area, a maximum of 5 feet long by 5 feet tall by 5 feet in volume. Just like the Apollo 14 surface mission, teams must make real-time decisions—all driven by a limited, virtual eight-minute supply of oxygen—about which mission objectives to attempt and which to leave behind.

Like the Apollo 15 mission, teams must be prepared to traverse rough terrains on a roving vehicle while carefully collecting terrain material and conducting science experiments crucial to the mission over three competition days.

Think Like NASA

The contest previously focused on completing the course as quickly as possible. Now its primary mission is challenging teams to think like NASA mission planners and planetary explorers. Among the rule changes for the 2020 challenge was the addition of one minute – for a total of eight minutes – to finish the course, which gives teams additional opportunity to earn points by completing more of the optional 14 obstacles and five science tasks.

  •     The 2020 competition included the following tasks:
  •     Spectrographic Analysis: Taking photographs with a camera using different filters
  •     Instrument Deployment: Deploying a solar-powered cell for a scientific instrument
  •     Core Sample Retrieval: Collecting a sample consisting of loose rock or mineral grains bound together by a liquid
  •     Solid Soil Sample Retrieval: Collecting, bagging, and storing solid surface samples
  •     Liquid Sample Retrieval: Collecting, bagging, and storing three separate liquid samples

In another major rule change, NASA will no longer accept pneumatic tires or other commercially purchased wheels on any competing vehicle. Each team must design and fabricate its wheels, with the exception of the central hubs. The 2020 Technology Challenge award focused on wheel design and fabrication. Judging was evaluated on a written report, oral interview, presentation, wheel inspection, and performance of the technical solution during the race.

Our Favorite Winners

In 2020, student SOLIDWORKS users at Instituto Tecnológico De Santo Domingo (INTEC), in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic took first place in the System Safety Challenge Award category. The Minister for the Youth offered full scholarships for the team members, and the president of the Dominican Republic congratulated the students in person at the National Palace.

The Systems Safety Challenge Award is a trophy presented by the Tennessee Valley Chapter of the International Systems Safety Society. Safety practices are judged by applying engineering and management principles, criteria, and techniques that optimize safety.

Look to the Future

For more than 25 years, the annual NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge and its sponsors have encouraged student teams from the United States and around the world to push the limits of innovation and imagine what it will take to explore the moon, Mars, and other worlds in the universe. The NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge will encourage research and development of new technology for future mission planning and crewed space missions.

The competition is organized by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It celebrates a half-century of engineering history and NASA’s Artemis-era pursuit of bold new discovery missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond. The event integrates the nation’s ambitious plans for solar system exploration with practical engineering skills, innovative design, and real-time decision-making that complement students’ classroom STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) curricula.

NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement furthers the agency’s goal of encouraging students to pursue degrees and careers in the STEM fields through multiple challenges, including the Rover Challenge.

SOLIDWORKS Education Edition

Our mission is to provide students with the tools and skills they need to build their careers. SOLIDWORKS Education Edition delivers 3D design solutions to inspire student creativity in engineering and design. The Education Edition includes over 12 products, allowing students to conceptualize, create, validate, communicate, manage, and transform their ideas into great designs.

For information on how to get the SOLIDWORKS Education Edition at your school, college, or university, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your local reseller.



Mitch Bossart is a technology enthusiast and loves to write about product development and innovation. Whether working with Fortune 100 companies or feisty startups, Mitch finds every story unique and often inspiring.