The RASC-AL Lunar Wheel Design Competition is open to full-time undergraduate or graduate students majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math at an accredited US-based university. Foreign students or universities can participate as members of a U.S.-led Team. A group of universities may also work in collaboration on a design project entry. Multidisciplinary teams are encouraged.

University design teams must include:
  • One Faculty or Industry Advisor with a US-based university affiliation; 
  • One Faculty Advisor is required to attend the Roll-off at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston with each team, and is a condition for acceptance into the Wheel Challenge.
    • NOTE: Teams who do not have a faculty advisor present at the Roll-Off will be disqualified from competing and stipends will be subject to return to NIA.
  • Team sizes can vary widely, but must include a minimum of two students from a U.S.-based university.Student team members and a faculty advisor may attend the 2013 Roll-Off in Houston, TX.
    • Special Note:  The individuals attending the Roll-Off must be US citizens or foreign nationals who carry current green cards. Teams should carefully consider this important restriction when establishing teams.


  1. Interested teams are strongly encouraged to submit an online Notice of Intent Form by the rolling deadline of January 19, 2013.  
  2. Teams must submit a Project Plan Proposal (electronic upload) by the January 19, 2013 deadline.
    • The Wheel Design Committee will review each team's project plan and announce the qualifying teams by January 28, 2013.
  3. On or around February 4, 2013, qualifying teams will receive the first half of a development stipend to fully design and build a lunar wheel and test their wheel in a competition at the NASA JSC Rock Yard, July 16-18, 2013.
  4. Qualifying teams will be required to complete a short Mid-Point Project Review by March 29, 2013, which will demonstrate that they are on-target to compete at the Roll-Off with four prototype lunar wheels that are capable of completing the tasks outlined in the Lunar Wheel Design Constraints
    • Upon successful completion of the mid-project review, teams will receive the second half of their development stipend to complete their wheels and attend the competition. 
  5. Each qualifying team will be permitted to send up to 3 team members and their faculty advisor to the Roll-Off at the JSC Rock Yard in Houston, TX from July 16-18, 2013.   


Teams participating in the Roll-Off will be required to:

  1. Submit a 3-5 page paper (including photos and/or CAD designs) depicting wheel development status for the Mid-Point Project Review – due March 29, 2013;
  2. Submit a 5-10 page technical report to be judged by steering committee - due July 5, 2013;
  3. Prepare a 10 minute presentation to be given at the 2013 Roll-Off Design Review; and
  4. Four NEW, fully functioning prototype lunar wheels that meet the Lunar Wheel Design Constraints/Requirements.


January  19, 2013   Rolling Deadline for NOI (strongly encouraged)
January 19, 2013 Deadline for Project Plan Submission
January 28, 2013 Qualifying Teams Announced
February 4, 2013  Development Stipend #1 sent to Universities
March 29, 2013   Mid-Point Project Review Deadline
April 5, 2013 Development Stipend #2 sent to Universities
June 10, 2013 Online Registration and Payment Deadline for Roll-Off
June 15, 2013   Hotel Reservations Due for Group Rate
July 5, 2013    Final Technical Paper and Presentation due
July 16-18, 2013  2013 Roll-Off in Houston, TX





Teams are encouraged to carefully review the Wheel Design Constraints below describing the specific tasks to be performed at the Rock Yard.   Click here for a printable version of the Wheel Design Constraints.

The competition will take place at the NASA JSC Rock Yard described in the Planetary Analog Test Site (PATS) User’s Guide.


  1. Each wheel must include a rim and tire. "Wheel" is defined, for this challenge, as the rim and tire combination. 
    • Since designs may or may not have a traditional tire, it is expected that the tire cannot be separated from the rim. In other words, the "wheel" is everything from the hub to the ground.
  2. Wheels will be tested on a John Deere RSX Gator (Spec Sheet).
    • Wheel diameter must fit into the RSX wheel well and width must be less than twice the RSX standard tire. (Since the Space Exploration Vehicle, or SEV, incorporates "crab steering," it is important that giant wheels are not developed for this competition.)
    • Each wheel must fit the standard lug pattern of the Gator.
      • Hub Bolt Pattern:  4 bolts
      • Hub Bolt Circle Diameter:  5.354 in. (136 mm) 
      • Hole size:  0.472 in. ( 12 mm) 
      • Offset Depth:  1.299 in. (33 mm) 
      • Pilot Diameter:  2.547 in. (64.7 mm) 
    • Wheels will be driven in 4WD, full-locking mode on the Gator at all times during the Roll-off. 
  3. Wheels must sustain up to 500 lbs of payload on the Gator.
  4. The wheels must be able to traverse over obstacles up to 10 inches in height on a level rock field composed of lava rock.
  5. Wheels must be able to navigate upslopes and downslopes of 10-30 degree grades, on firm hills.
  6. Wheels must be capable of traversing mason sand-filled sand dunes up to 10 feet in height. 
  7. Wheels must be capable of traversing sand with no appreciable slope (i.e., soft, flat ground), composed of deep mason sand.
  8. Wheels must be capable of traversing firm, flat ground composed of packed soil and aggregate.
  9. Wheels must be capable of traversing flat ground composed of crushed limestone.
  10. Wheels must be capable of traversing "lunar" crater field composed of loose gravel with slopes up to 25 degrees.
  11. Each Team will have at most an hour to demonstrate wheel capabilities at the Roll-off.
    • This time limit includes a free-style session, which is an opportunity for teams to showcase any special wheel capabilities
  12. Teams should plan for all weather conditions. The Roll-Off will not be impacted by light rain, however the competition may be postponed at the judges' discretion due to heavier rain.
  13. The Gator must be able to navigate all terrains at the JSC Rock Yard: the Rock Field, Lunar Craters, Sand Dunes, Gravel Pit, and the Mars Hill (see photo of Rock Yard). 
  14. Teams will be limited to rotating their wheels at 60 rpm maximum during the Roll-off.
    • A visual and/or audible indication will be on the utility vehicle to alert teams when they have exceeded 60 rpm.
    • This restriction is to make the test analogous to how the SEV will be operated on the moon and Mars. (The wheel is expected to "crawl" over the terrain instead of "spin/wheel slip" through terrain).


The Wheel Design Steering Committee, comprised of NASA experts, will evaluate and score the competition between participating teams.  Wheel designs will be evaluated and judged based on adherence to the Wheel Design Requirements and the criteria below. The 2013 Wheel Design Scoring Matrix provides a detailed explanation of the scoring approach. 

NOTE: Teams are responsible for thoroughly reviewing the Guidelines for Deliverables to ensure compliance in each area.

Overall Competition Score: The maximum possible points for the overall competition is 100.

  • Roll-Off: A maximum of XX points will be awarded for the Roll-Off.
  • Technical Report: A maximum of XX points will be awarded based on the quality of the written Technical Report.
  • Oral Presentation/Design Review: A maximum of XX points will be awarded based on the quality of the oral presentation (including Q&A session). 


Qualifying teams will be selected to receive a monetary award (up to $9,000) to facilitate full participation in the wheel design competition, including expenses for wheel development, materials, testing equipment, hardware and software.  

The 1st installment of $5,000 will be offered upon notification that teams qualify for further development and entry in the next stage of the competition.  

The 2nd installment will be available after each team successfully completes the 
Mid-Point Project Review evidencing on-time development and successful integration. This mid-project review may include a video conference with steering committee.  

The development funds will be paid by NIA to the Office of Sponsored Programs at each university. It is the responsibility of the faculty advisor to work with this office on its disbursement policies for the funds.

In addition, teams are invited to raise additional funds from their universities or sponsoring organizations and companies. There is no limit to how much additional funds can be raised or contributed.


Up to $5,000 in prize money is available.

Other Recognition Awards may include:
  • Best Technical Paper
  • Best Oral Presentation
  • Judges' Innovation Award
  • Freestyle Award