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NASA opens second phase of $3.5 million lunar excavation competition

NASA opens second phase of $3.5 million lunar excavation competition

Press release from: NASA HQ
Posted: Thursday June 2nd 2022

NASA has launched the second phase of its Break the Ice Lunar Challenge to advance technology that is – quite literally – groundbreaking. The challenge invites the public to advance system technology for the excavation and delivery of lunar resources.

At the top of NASA’s list of innovation priorities are technologies that use the Moon’s resources to support sustainable surface operations while reducing Earth’s supply requirements. This includes systems that could convert lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinking water or other vital resources.

“As NASA strives to expand human exploration of the solar system, our first step is a sustained presence on the Moon,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Missions Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington. “New technologies and new systems like these are essential for us to establish a new paradigm for exploration.”

Phase 1 of the Break the Ice Lunar Challenge was launched in 2020, seeking to encourage innovative approaches to excavating icy regolith – or lunar dirt – and delivering the resources acquired under extreme lunar environmental conditions.

NASA has identified several technology gaps related to harvesting and moving large amounts of resources to the Moon, including hardware capable of operating in extreme cold and permanent to near-permanent darkness. Robotic excavation systems will have to withstand harsh environments inside permanently shaded regions at the lunar South Pole, the targeted landing site for crewed Artemis missions where ice has been observed.

In Phase 2 of the challenge, teams will be asked to design, build and test a prototype icy regolith excavation system and a prototype icy regolith transport system to maximize resource delivery while minimizing resource consumption. energy and mass of equipment delivered to the lunar surface. Phase 2 contains three tiers, will last 23 months, and offers a total scholarship of $3 million.

In Tier 1 of the Phase 2 competition, teams will develop detailed engineering designs and long-running demonstration test plans for their prototype systems. Eligible U.S. teams that meet the submission requirements for Tier 1 of the Phase 2 competition will receive an equal share of the $500,000 purse. All teams that meet the submission requirements for Tier 1 of the Phase 2 competition will advance to Tier 2 of the Phase 2 competition.

In Phase 2 of the Tier 2 competition, teams will build large-scale terrestrial analog prototypes and perform sustainability demonstrations. The highest-rated US team will receive $300,000; the second highest scoring US team will receive $200,000; the third-highest-scoring US team will receive $125,000; and up to five US finalists will receive $75,000 each. Up to 15 teams – including winners and runners-up – that exceed the minimum score will advance to Tier Three of the Phase 2 competition.

In Phase 2 of the Tier 3 competition, teams will test the prototype systems built in Phase 2 of the Tier 2 competition. The highest-scoring US team will receive $1 million and the second-scoring US team highest rated will receive $500,000. In addition to cash prizes, NASA will also provide opportunities to test designs in a thermal vacuum that will simulate temperature and atmospheric pressure conditions at the dusty lunar South Pole.

Up to three international teams with the highest scores will be recognized as winners of competition levels two and three. International teams are not eligible to receive prize money or thermal vacuum testing opportunities.

In 2021, NASA awarded 13 teams a share of a $500,000 grant for their Phase 1 system architecture designs to collect and move large amounts of icy regolith and water from a shaded region. permanently near the south pole of the Moon. Teams had seven months to register and submit a detailed system architecture, excavation plan and animation of the system in operation. Thirty-one teams – comprising academics, industrialists and independent inventors from 17 US states, Canada, Australia and Sri Lanka – submitted eligible proposals.

Phase 1 teams, as well as new competitors, are encouraged to register for Phase 2 on the challenge site by 11:59 p.m. on September 30, 2022.

The Break the Ice Lunar Challenge is a NASA Centennial Challenge, operated by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Centennial Challenges are part of the Awards, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program within NASA’s Space Technology Missions Directorate. NASA has engaged Ensemble Consultancy to support competitor management for this challenge.

For more information on the challenge, visit:

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