NASA Opens Second Phase of $3.5 Million Moon Excavation Competition
Press release from: NASA HQ
Posted: Thursday, June 2, 2022
NASA launched the second phase of the Break the Ice Lunar Challenge to advance technology that is – literally – groundbreaking. The challenge invites the public to develop system technology for the excavation and supply of lunar resources.
High on NASA’s list of innovation priorities are technologies that use the moon’s resources to support sustainable surface operations while reducing Earth’s supply needs. This includes systems that can convert moon ice into rocket fuel, potable water or other vital resources.
“As NASA works to expand human exploration of the solar system, our first stop is an ongoing presence on the moon,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “New technologies and systems like these are essential for us to create a new paradigm for exploration.”
Phase 1 of the Break the Ice Lunar Challenge launched in 2020, with the aim of driving innovative approaches to excavating icy regolith – or lunar debris – and supplying acquired resources in extreme lunar environmental conditions.
NASA has identified several technological gaps related to harvesting and moving large amounts of resources on the moon, including hardware that can operate in the extreme cold and permanent to near-permanent darkness. Robotic excavation systems must withstand the harsh environments of permanently shaded areas at the moon’s south pole, the target landing site for manned Artemis missions where ice has been observed.
In Phase 2 of the challenge, teams will be asked to design, build and test an ice-cold regolith excavation system prototype and an ice-regolith transport system prototype to maximize resource delivery while reducing energy consumption and minimize the amount of equipment delivered to the lunar surface. Phase 2 contains three tiers, lasts 23 months and offers a total prize pool of $3 million.
In Phase 2 competition level one, teams will develop detailed engineering designs and lengthy demonstration test plans for their prototype systems. Eligible US teams that meet the entry requirements for Phase 2 Competition Level One will receive an equal share of the $500,000 prize pool. All teams that meet the entry requirements for Phase 2 Competition Level One will advance to Phase 2 Competition Level Two.
In Phase 2 competition level two, teams will build full-scale terrestrial analog prototypes and provide sustainability demonstrations. The top scoring US team will receive $300,000; the second highest scoring US team receives $200,000; the third-highest-scoring US team receives $125,000; and up to five American runners-up will each receive $75,000. A maximum of 15 teams – including winners and runners-up – who exceed the minimum score will advance to Stage 2 Competition Level Three.
In Phase 2 Competition Level Three, teams will test the prototype systems built in Phase 2 Competition Level Two. The US team with the highest score will receive $1 million and the second highest scoring US team will receive $500,000. In addition to cash prizes, NASA will also award opportunities to test concepts in a thermal vacuum that will simulate the temperature and atmospheric pressure at the dusty lunar South Pole.
Up to three international teams with the highest score will be recognized as winners in league level two and league level three. International teams are not eligible for prize money or thermal vacuum testing opportunities.
In 2021, NASA awarded 13 teams a share of a $500,000 prize pool for their Phase 1 systems architecture designs for collecting and moving large amounts of icy regolith and water from a permanently shadowed area 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 — including academia, industry and independent inventors from 17 US states, Canada, Australia and Sri Lanka — submitted eligible proposals.
Phase 1 teams, as well as new entrants, are encouraged to register for Phase 2 on the challenge site at 11:59 PM on September 30, 2022.
The Break the Ice Lunar Challenge is a NASA Centennial Challenge administered by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Centennial Challenges are part of the Prizes, Challenges and Crowdsourcing program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. NASA has contracted Ensemble Consultancy to support competitor management for this challenge.
For more information about the challenge, visit: https://breaktheicechallenge.com/
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