The Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkages (RASC-AL) portfolio consists of several premier university engineering design challenges that help inform NASA’s approaches for future human space exploration and prompt collegiate students to investigate, plan, and analyze space exploration design at differing states of development. RASC-AL competitions fuel innovation for aerospace system concepts, analogs, and technology prototyping by engaging universities as partners in the journey.

Periodically, Special Edition RASC-AL programs are established to elicit students’ fresh perspective on developing concepts that may provide full or partial solutions to specific design problems and challenges currently facing human space exploration. In the past, these special edition competitions have included design-build-test programs for subsystem and component level prototypes (i.e., the RASC-AL Exploration Robo-ops and RASC-AL Lunar Wheel Design challenges), as well as technology demonstrations for critical ISRU capabilities (i.e., the 2017 RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge).

Through the 2018 RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge, NASA will provide university-level engineering students with the opportunity to design and build prototype hardware that can extract water from simulated Martian subsurface ice. Multiple teams will be chosen through a proposal and down-select process that assesses the teams’ concepts and progress throughout the year.

Up to 10 teams will become finalists and travel to the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA during the summer of 2018 to participate in a multi-day competition where the universities’ prototypes will compete to extract the most water from simulated Martian subsurface ice over a two-day period. Each Martian simulated subsurface ice station will be comprised of layers, including overburden and solid blocks of ice. The total simulated subsurface ice depth will not exceed 1.0 meter. Teams may drill multiple holes. The water extraction system is subject to mass, volume, and power constraints.

In addition to the test and validation portion of the project, teams will present their concepts in a technical poster session to a multi-disciplinary judging panel of scientists and engineers from NASA and industry. Poster presentations will be based on the team’s technical paper that details the concept’s “path-to-flight” (how the design can be applied to an actual mission on Mars). Noting the significant differences between Mars and Earth operational environments, the mandatory path-to-flight discussion should describe essential modifications that would be required for Mars water extraction. This includes, but is not limited to, considerations for temperature differences, power limitations, and atmospheric pressure differences (i.e., challenges from sublimation).

Based on initial proposals, up to 10 qualifying university teams will be selected to receive a $10,000 stipend to facilitate full participation in the competition, including expenses for hardware development, materials, testing equipment, hardware, software, and travel to Langley for the competition. Scoring will be based on total water extracted and collected each day, adherence to NASA requirements, a technical paper capturing innovations and design, and the technical poster presentation.

Top performing teams may be chosen to present their design at a NASA-chosen event. Subject to the availability of funds, such invites may include an accompanying stipend to further advance development of team concepts and offset the cost of traveling to the event.