Frequently Asked Questions

RASC-AL program staff will respond to questions presented by eligible student and faculty from accredited colleges and universities in the United States

Questions should be sent to

A Q&A Session will be held on October 15th, 2020 for teams who submit a Notice of Intent. The deadline to submit questions is October 8th, 2020 by 11:59 PM EST.


A Q&A Session was hosted on October 17, 2019.
You can view files from that session below. Answers to the questions received on-call can be found on the Q&A Summary Document.

Who is eligible to participate in the RASC-AL Special Edition: Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge?

The RASC-AL Special Edition: Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge is open to undergraduate and graduate students majoring in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics and related disciplines at an accredited U.S.-based college or university. Teams may include senior capstone courses, robotics clubs, multi-university teams, multi-disciplinary teams, etc. Undergraduate and graduate students may work in collaboration together on the same team.

Are international students allowed to participate?

Foreign universities are not eligible to participate in the Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge. However, foreign students who are attending a U.S.-based university are eligible to participate with their team. However, please note that due to prohibitive restrictions and ever-changing NASA security regulations, foreign nationals will not be able to attend the Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge Forum on-site at NASA. There will be no exceptions to this policy.

Can multiple teams from the same university submit different proposals to compete in the RASC-AL Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge?

Yes, multiple teams from the same university can submit separate proposals for the Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge, and multiple teams from the same university may move on to the next round of the competition if their project plans merit selection into the program.

Is it possible to bring in additional team members, after the abstract is accepted?

Yes, absolutely. We understand that sometimes things change between the time abstracts were submitted and the time the written report is due. We just ask that you list every person who contributed to your project in the final report.

Is industry collaboration, either formally or informally, allowed?

Yes, industry collaboration is certainly acceptable - and encouraged! The RASC-AL competitions are unique university competitions, because they focus on garnering real ideas and concepts that can be incorporated into NASA future mission planning. Teams that perform well are often ones that have true support of their faculty advisors and collaborations with industry.

Does my NOI concept description need to match the proposal submission? What if we decide to change our idea after the NOI? Do we have to submit a proposal if we submit an NOI?

We understand that NOI’s are due early in the development process and teams will still be in the process of fleshing out many of the details of their concepts. We fully expect that teams’ concepts will change and evolve between the NOI and Proposal submissions, as in-depth research and analysis is conducted. Teams have the flexibility to change ideas as they work over the course of the semester, and the idea submitted in the NOI does not need to match the proposal submission.

NOIs are non-binding. If a team submits an NOI and then later decides not to participate in the competition, no further action is required.

Do I have to cover the costs of participating in the RASC-AL Special Edition: Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge?

Each team will receive a monetary award to facilitate full participation in the Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge onsite competition.

Why does my advisor have to attend the forum?

One Faculty Advisor is required to attend the Forum with each team, and is a condition for acceptance into the Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge. Advisors can provide guidance and insight into the team's decisions, as well as acting as a primary contact point between the RASC-AL coordinators and the universities.

Teams who do not have a faculty advisor present at the Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge onsite competition will be disqualified from competing and participation awards will be subject to return to NIA.

Will the competition environment be at a reduced atmospheric pressure?

No, it will be conducted at 1 atmosphere.

What are the dimensions for water collection tank?

It's a 22 qt. (20 L) bucket.

Does it need to be designed as if it were to be sent to Mars or the Moon? (landing, radiation proofing electronics, martian environment, etc)?

The physical system you build and bring to the competition does not. However, in your paper, you must describe the changes and accommodations that would need to be made such that your system could be used in the Martian or Lunar environment.

Is the power limitation just on drill or for whole system? Batteries aren’t allowed on the drill, but are they allowed elsewhere like an Arduino?

The power limitation applies to the full drilling system, with the exception of the independent remote crew controlled computer (if used). Likewise, batteries are not allowed for any part of the system.

Only 5 students and a faculty advisor are allowed on site, but can the rest of the team attend the competition?

No. Only 5 team members and 1 faculty advisor may attend the onsite competition at NASA Langley Research Center.

Is font size requirement for the paper just for the main writing? Does it include captions?

It does not include captions.

Are we allowed to have multiple drills within the system? How would this affect the force and weight limitations?

Yes, you may have multiple drills within the system, but the total mass and volume of the entire system must meet the stated design constraints.

Do the power restrictions include the heating and filtration system? Or is it just for the drill?

The power restrictions apply to the entire drill system, including the heating and filtration subsystems

Does the weight on bit pertain just to our cutting tool or the resultant downward force of all components operating in the ice hole?

The weight on bit pertains to the entire downward force of all components operating in the ice hole. The total maximum downward force simultaneously exerted (sum of all the parts pressing down) on the test bed is limited to 150N.

So, for instance, if you use the rotor to move the dirt, and it operates alone, it can exert 150N. A cutting tool that then works alone to drill into the ice could also exert 150N. However, if these two devices were ever operating simultaneously, then the total combined force would be limited to 150N, and each tool would be limited to exerting less than 150N individually.

Is the 2m height restriction absolute or relative to the ground? Also would it be measured when the drill bit is fully extended? So for example would it be from the bottom of the drill bit while its drilling to the top of the system?

Our intent was to have a height limit of 2m above the lid, for safety reasons.

We will take measurements of your drill while it is sitting on the floor, before it is mounted to the test stand. Your drill system should be set up to allow us to measure the maximum potential dimensions (i.e., the drill bit will need to be raised to the maximum height that it would reach during the competition) - which should not exceed 2 meters tall.

Should we record the receipts for how our stipend was spent?

You don't need to include receipts for how you've spent your stipends for the mid point review. However, you will be asked to include a budget recognizing sponsors, grants, and estimated dollar amounts in your final technical paper.

Would it be okay if our design has a drill bit longer than 38 in, given that the extra length will be above the lid at all times (the drill bit is physically unable to drill deeper than 38.5in)?

This is fine so long as there is a guard/safe-proof that will keep the drill from going through the cooler. No more than 38 inches of the drill may enter the cooler.

As long as we maintain an average of 10 amps over the course of the entire day are we allowed to utilize our power to the best of its capabilities?

Ultimately, we want you to stick to the Design Constraints requirement that says your power cannot exceed 10 amps.
If you do go above, you'll receive the stated penalty - but we also want you to understand that going above the 10 amps puts your team (and your fellow competitors and other workers in the hangar) at a large risk. Overloading the system by exceeding 10 amps has the serious potential to trip the breakers in the hangar.

An occasional minor deviation that dips above 10 amps will likely not be a major issue. However, it is not acceptable to try to pull 20 amps for a while and then 1 amp for a while to "fix" your average.

Can team members manually reposition the drill to a new dig site during "hands-off" operation?

Teams may manually move/reposition their drills between subsequent “hands-off” operations without penalty. However, if a team plans to use manual repositioning, careful consideration should be taken in the path-to-flight section of their Project Plan Proposal to articulate how this would translate into operations off-Earth.

What type of performance is expected of the 9 A Fast Blow Fuse?

Teams have been instructed to design and construct a system with a 9 A fast blow fuse, the make/model/exact performance of which was up to the teams. NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace are officially revising/updating that design constraint to specify that the performance of the 9 A fast blow fuse should be equivalent or better than Bussman Series AGC. This is an industry standard fast acting glass fuse that will maintain minimum performance but still allow teams to choose a fuse that can protect what you need to protect as well. The link provided is a manufacturer's data sheet that contains the performance information we require teams to meet or exceed.

If we stop hands-off operation to install a new assembly or insert a casing into the hole, do we need to drill a new hole? Would that still count as a hands-off run?

You would not need to drill into a new separate hole, but because you are touching the system to install the new assembly, this would be considered a hands-ON run and any water collected would be scored as such. You would be able to use the same hole.

Our goal is to make a system capable of operating on the moon and/or Mars. However, what are some of the constraints that we may ignore for the design we will make for the competition?

Anything not readily replicable in an Earth-based test bed, e.g., gravity, pressure, and temperature. Constraints you choose to ignore are trade decisions your team has to make and decide for yourselves. Make sure you acknowledge and justify any design trades, and include a discussion on what changes you would need to make to the system to make it capable of operating on the moon/Mars in your Path-to-Flight section.

Can my team use copyrighted music or photos in our presentation?

It is the responsibility of each team to appropriately handle copyright issues related to anything you choose to use in your presentation (including, but not limited to: music, images, graphics, and photos). Neither NASA nor NIA can grant permission for you to use copyrighted material.

For the purposes of this challenge, what is a digital core?

A Digital Core is a written description that represents the team’s knowledge and understanding of where each of the layers are, the general hardness of each different layer, and the thickness of each layer. Finalist teams will use the Digital Core Form provided on-site to record the following information:

  • The number of layers in their test station
  • A sequence of the layers in order from softest to hardest
  • The thickness of each layer

The digital core should result from information garnered using system telemetry and not via placing a ruler down the hole. Teams may not touch the layers to determine hardness.