RELEASE 12-09-2016: Universities Selected for NASA's RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                 December 9, 2016

Bianca Clark
National Institute of Aerospace, Hampton, Va.

NIA RELEASE: 2016-09

Universities Selected for NASA’s RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge

Dec. 9, 2016, Hampton, Va —

Based on a review of competitive proposals, NASA has selected eight universities to participate in the first Mars Ice Challenge, a special edition competition under NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) brand of competitions.  The RASC-AL portfolio encompasses multiple prestigious university-level engineering design competitions that engage the university community in developing innovative solutions to relevant, real-world challenges that the space industry faces in exploring the cosmos.

The RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge is a technology demonstration competition that seeks revolutionary methods to drill into and extract water from simulated Martian subsurface ice stations.  To participate, interested teams submitted project plan proposals containing innovative designs for drilling and water extraction systems on Earth that could be modified for use on Mars.  Drilling and water extraction systems were subject to mass, volume, and power constraints.

The following eight teams have been selected to move to the next phase of the competition where they will build and test their proposed designs:  Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y with their project, Multi-stage Ice Drilling and Extraction System (MIDaES); Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo. with their project, H.G. WELLS (Hidden Ground Water Extraction Low Load System); North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. with their project, Appetite for Ice; The University of Tennessee, Knoxville in Knoxville, Tenn. with their project, FOLGRS; The University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas with their project, Deepspace Excavator; University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa. with their project, Mars Water Horizons, and two teams from West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va. with projects, Mountaineer Ice Drilling Automated System (MIDAS) and The In-Situ Resource Extraction System.

Each of these eight teams must demonstrate appropriate progress and successfully pass a mid-project review in April to be invited to NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. for three days next June. While at NASA, teams will test their drilling systems on simulated Martian subsurface ice stations, solid blocks of ice covered with a mixture of clay and gravel approximately one meter deep.  Teams will compete to extract the most water from the ice station.

Recent discoveries of what are thought to be large ice deposits just under the surface on Mars have NASA engineers working on ways to extract water from the ice deposits, which could enable a sustained human presence on Mars.

“NASA’s philosophy for quite some time in selecting destinations for human exploration is to ‘follow the water’,” says Robert Moses, Aerospace Engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center.  “Results of our Mars mission campaign studies continue to illustrate how critically important the water is on Mars for making the fuels and crew consumables (including spare parts) needed on Mars and when returning to Earth.  Any mission to Mars without the ability to access the water is simply unsustainable and too risky.”

“Exploring and demonstrating methods to extract water from Mars ice deposits is the heart of this competition,” says Patrick Troutman, Human Exploration Architecture Integration Lead at NASA Langley.  “Participating team members will take on the role of astronauts on Mars who monitor and control drilling operations for water extraction.  We are thrilled with the creative designs proposed by these eight teams and are excited to see their various methods and approaches in action.”

In addition to the actual drilling, competitors will submit detailed technical papers outlining their drill concepts to convince judges that their Earth-based prototype technology could also be used for water extraction on Mars.  Essential modifications must account for the significant differences between Mars and Earth operational environments.

The Mars Ice Challenge is being held in conjunction with NASA Langley’s Centennial celebration activities. The Hampton, Virginia facility was the country’s first civilian aeronautics laboratory established in 1917.  The competition’s organizer, RASC-AL, has served as an integral part of NASA’s talent pipeline for many Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) projects since 2002.

According to RASC-AL program team officials at the National Institute of Aerospace, also in Hampton, the competition is a good way to showcase NASA Langley’s growing role in understanding and advancing In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) approaches and technologies. Improving those capabilities will be a focus for NASA over the next few decades, and the RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge offers a unique way to engage the national university community in NASA Langley’s 100th anniversary.

For more information about the NASA RASC-AL Special Edition- Mars Ice Challenge, visit:


Shelley Spears
National Institute of Aerospace, Hampton, Va.