October 20, 2021
NASA has announced the Lunabotics Junior Contest, looking for young engineers to help design a new robot concept for an excavation mission on the Moon. The contest is open to K-12 students in U.S. public and private schools, as well as home-schoolers.
A collaboration between NASA and Future Engineers, the competition asks students to design a robot that digs and moves lunar soil, called regolith, from an area of the lunar South Pole to a holding container near where Artemis astronauts may explore in the future.
The Artemis program aims to land astronauts on the Moon and establish long-term lunar science and exploration capabilities, serving as a springboard for future exploration of Mars. NASA said lunar regolith could be used to create lunar concrete, reducing the amount and cost of materials that need to be transported from Earth.
To enter the contest, students must submit entries, which must include an image of the robot design and a written summary explaining how the design is intended to operate on the moon, by Jan. 25, 2022.
“Extracting resources in deep space will require innovation and creativity, and students are some of the most creative thinkers,” said Mike Kincaid, NASA’s associate administrator for the Office of STEM Engagement. “The next generation always brings new perspectives, inventive ideas, and a sense of optimism to the challenges NASA puts in front of them. I’m really looking forward to seeing the designs they submit to Lunabotics Junior.”
While students are not tasked to build a robot, they will need to envision a robot design that is no larger than 3.5 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet, and that also address three main design features: how the physical design of the robot will enable it to scoop/dig and move the lunar regolith; whether the robot will operate by moving large amounts of dirt per trip, or by transporting less dirt over more trips; and how the design and operation of the robot will meet the big challenge of lunar dust that is stirred up and can “stick” to surfaces when lunar regolith is moved.
Students can sign up individually or teachers can register their entire class. Two categories will include students in grades K-5 and those in grades 6-12. Ten semifinalists will receive a Lunabotics Junior prize pack, and four finalists from each category will win a virtual session with a NASA subject matter expert. The winner from each category will be announced on March 29, 2022, and will be awarded a virtual chat for their class with Janet Petro, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The contest is also seeking volunteers to help judge the entries; U.S. residents interested in offering about five hours of their time over a 10-day period can register here to be a judge.