Background on RASC-AL Special Edition Challenges

The Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkages (RASC-AL) suite of competitions 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 2018 RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge).

The 2013 RASC-AL Wheel Design Competition

2016 RASC-AL Robo-Ops Competition

2018 RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge

The 2021 Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge

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

Up to 10 teams will become finalists and travel to the NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Hampton, VA during the summer of 2021 to participate in a multi-day competition where the universities’ prototypes will compete to extract the most water from an analog environment simulating a slice of a combined lunar and Martian surface, while simultaneously using system telemetry to distinguish between overburden layers and create a digital core of the various layers. Each simulated subsurface ice station will contain solid blocks of ice buried under various layers of overburden (terrestrial materials of varying hardness that represent possible materials found on lunar or Martian surfaces). Teams will be asked to provide a digital core that represents their knowledge and understanding of where each of the layers are, the general hardness of each different layer, and the thickness of each layer. The total internal depth of the simulated testbed will not exceed 1.0 meter. Teams may drill multiple holes. The water extraction and prospecting 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 “paths-to-flight” (how the design can be modified for use on an actual mission on the Moon or Mars). This includes, but is not limited to, considerations for temperature differences, power limitations, and atmospheric pressure differences.

The paths-to-flight description will be broken into two distinct sections:

  1. Water extraction on Mars: teams will discuss the significant differences between Mars and Earth operation environments and describe essential modifications that would be required for extracting water from subsurface ice on Mars.
  2. Lunar prospecting for a digital core: teams will discuss the significant differences between the Moon and Earth operational environments and describe essential modifications that would be required for prospecting on the Moon.

Based on initial Project Plan 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, the accuracy of the digital core, adherence to NASA requirements, a technical poster presentation, and a technical paper capturing paths-to-flight, innovations, and design.

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

The “R” in RASC-AL – Revolutionary – is not just another word for advanced technology, it is about thinking outside the box, clever innovation, and challenging convention. NASA’s investment in RASC-AL supports the future engineers, scientists, and explorers who make those revolutionary ideas a reality.

Covid-19 Statement: As the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation continues to evolve, NASA and NIA will closely monitor and follow guidelines from federal, state, and community officials regarding the onsite competition at NASA LaRC next summer. Protecting the health and safety of team members, staff, and judges is our primary priority.