June 2, 2022
NASA has announced the second phase of its Break the Ice Lunar Challenge, with invitations to the public to advance system technology for excavating and delivering lunar resources. Interested teams can register for Phase 2 by 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2022.
The space agency said it is looking for technologies that use the Moon’s resources to support sustainable surface operations while decreasing supply needs from Earth. This includes systems that could convert lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinking water, or other vital resources.
“As NASA works to extend human exploration of the solar system, our first step is a sustained presence on the Moon,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. “New technologies and systems like these are essential for us to set a new paradigm for exploration.”
The first phase of the lunar challenge launched in 2020, which sought to incentivize innovative approaches for excavating icy regolith – moon dirt – and delivering those resources in extreme lunar environmental conditions. NASA identified several technology gaps related to harvesting and moving large quantities of resources on the Moon, including hardware that can operate in extreme cold and permanent to near-permanent darkness. Robotic systems for excavations will need to withstand these harsh environments inside permanently shadowed regions at the lunar South Pole, the targeted landing site for crewed Artemis missions where ice has been observed.
NASA said Phase 2 of the challenge asks teams to design, build, and test an icy regolith excavation system prototype and an icy regolith transportation system prototype to maximize resource delivery while minimizing energy use and the mass of equipment delivered to the lunar surface. Phase 2 contains three levels, and will last for 232 months. A total prize purse of $3 million is available for teams.
The first level of competition will have teams developing detailed engineering designs and long-duration demonstration test plans for their prototype systems. Eligible U.S.-based teams that meet submission requirements for Phase 2 competition level one will be awarded an equal share of the $500,000 prize purse. Teams that meet level one submission requirements will advance to level two.
In level two, teams will build terrestrial analog full-scale prototypes and conduct durability demonstrations. The top-scoring U.S. team will win $300,000; the second-highest scoring U.S. team will receive $200,000; and the third-highest U.S. team will win $125,000; up to five U.S. runners-up will receive $75,000 each. Up to 15 teams, including winners and runners-up, that exceed the minimum score will advance to level three of the competition.
In the third level, teams will test their prototype systems built in level two. The top-scoring U.S. team here will receive $1 million, with second place earning $500,000. In addition to the cash prizes, NASA said it will award opportunities to test concepts in a thermal vacuum, which simulates the temperature and atmospheric pressure conditions at the dusty lunar South Pole.
Up to three top-scoring international teams will be recognized as winners in level two, but are not eligible to be awarded prize money or test in the thermal vacuum, NASA said.
Last year, NASA awarded 13 teams a share of a $500,000 prize for Phase 1 designs of system architecture for collecting and moving large amounts of icy regolith and water from a permanently shadowed region near the Moon’s South Pole. Thirty-one teams from across academia, industry and independent inventors from 17 U.S. states, Canada, Australia and Sri Lanka submitted eligible proposals. Jacksonville, Fla.-based Redwire Space won first place and $125,000 for its proposed two-rover system, dubbed the Lunar Regolith Excavator (L-Rex) and Lunar Transporter (L-Tran).
For more details on the challenge, visit the NASA Break the Lunar Ice Challenge site here.