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The Sky is No Longer the Limit for 10 University Teams Selected to Compete in NASA Engineering Challenge

“The sky’s the limit” is an adage reminding us that anything is possible. But for 10 university teams selected as finalists in NASA’s RASC-AL Special Edition: Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge, the sky is no longer the limit.  Instead, they are setting their sights much further in the solar system. 

The following 10 teams were chosen for their ingenuity and imagination to participate alongside NASA and industry researchers in the quest to demonstrate methods for harvesting water on the Moon and Mars:

California Polytechnic State University *

  • Sub-lunar Tap-Yielding eXplorer (STYX)
  • Advisor: Peter Schuster

Colorado School of Mines

  • Drilling Rig for the Exploration and Acquisition of Martian Resources (Team DREAMR)
  • Advisor: Angel Abbud-Madrid

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Advisor: Jeffrey Hoffman

Northeastern University

  • Northeastern University Probing Regolith and Ice-Extracting System for Mars and Moon
  • Advisor: Taskin Padir

Stevens Institute of Technology

  • Extraterrestrial Robotic Ice Collector
  • Advisor: Eric Williams

Texas A&M University *

  • Drilling and extraction automated system (Dreams)
  • Advisor: (Eduardo Gildin)

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

  • This is Now a Drill (TINAD)
  • Advisor: Subhadeep Chakraborty

University of Southern California *

  • Trojan H2O Extraction System & Evaluation of Underground Surfaces (THESEUS)
  • Advisor: David Barnhart

University of Virginia *

  • Laser-based Extraction of Subterranean Lunar/Martian Ice (LESLI)
  • Advisor: Mool Gupta

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

  • Aqua Recirculating Integrated Upheaval System (AQUARIUS)
  • Advisor: Kevin Shinpuagh

* First time team selection for the challenge

“Well beyond the Earth, finding and extracting water in these alien environments may sound like science fiction,” said Richard (Rick) Davis, assistant director for science and exploration in the agency’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Yet almost daily, new technologies and capabilities are emerging that bring us closer and closer to being able to sustain humans on the Moon or Mars. Arguably, the most vital capability is our ability to find and harvest water – which is critical for sustaining life.”

That is just what the Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge has set out to do. Through this university-level engineering design competition, the 10 finalist teams have been commissioned to design systems that can perform four main tasks:

  1. Drill through a variety of unknown layers consisting of dirt, rock, clay and cement that simulate lunar and/or Martian terrain;
  2. Find solid ice frozen beneath these layers and determine how to extract water from that ice;
  3. Filter the extracted water – teams will be rewarded with more points if the water can be extracted without manual intervention;
  4. Use system telemetry to determine how many layers are encountered inside the test beds and provide a density profile for each of the layers.

Each of the finalist teams will receive a $10,000 development stipend to build and test their systems and perform a technology demonstration of their prototypes’ capabilities in a multi-day competition at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, next June, where the goal is to extract as much water as possible from the simulated slices of lunar and Martian surfaces. Teams will also be required to identify the significant differences between operations on Earth versus the Moon and Mars, and describe essential modifications needed for each in a “path-to-flight” description for their prototypes.

The Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge, a collaboration between NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace, has been recognized as a model analog program for the agency; building skills, techniques and methodologies that help close critical knowledge and technology gaps applicable to NASA’s Artemis missions and beyond.

The 2020 RASC-AL Special Edition Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge is sponsored by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist, Science Mission Directorate, Space Technology Mission Directorate and the Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate at Langley, with support from the Human Exploration Operations Mission Directorate’s Advanced Explorations Systems.

To learn more about RASC-AL Special Edition: Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge, visit:

For more information about NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration plans, visit:

April Phillips
NASA Langley Research Center
Hampton, Virginia

Nine university teams from across the U.S. competed in the third NASA Moon to Mars Ice and Prospecting Challenge hosted at NASA Langley Research Center, June 4-6, 2019. The teams demonstrated their prototype drills to extract the most water possible from a cooler, simulating a slice of Martian surface. Credits: NASA