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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: Marshall Space Flight Center
Posted: Friday June 3rd 2022

NASA has launched the second phase of its Breaking the Ice Lunar Challenge to advance technology that is – quite literally – revolutionary. 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 stop 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 systems like these are essential for us to establish a new paradigm for exploration.”

Break the Ice Lunar Challenge Phase 1 launched in 2020seeking to encourage innovative approaches to extracting icy regolith – or lunar dirt – and providing the acquired resources 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 systems for excavation will have to withstand the harsh environments inside the permanently shadowed regions at the lunar south pole, the target landing site for crew 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 reward 13 teams will share a $500,000 grant for their Phase 1 system architecture designs to collect and move large amounts of icy regolith and water from a permanently shadowed region near the Moon’s south pole. 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 before 11:59 p.m. on September 30, 2022.

The Break the Ice Lunar Challenge is a NASA Centennial Challenge, managed by NASA. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Centennial Challenges are part of the Prizes, Challenges and Crowdsourcing program within NASA 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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