NEW NASA RASC-AL Competition Seeks Mars Prototype Ice Drilling Systems

NEW NASA RASC-AL Competition Seeks Mars Prototype Ice Drilling Systems

Chances are that you’ve heard of NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) portfolio of prestigious university-level engineering design competitions. Today, NASA is pleased to unveil a new hands-on competition for 2017 – the RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge.  

In 2017, NASA’s Langley Research Center (LaRC) will celebrate its centennial anniversary. As a part of the centennial celebration activities at LaRC, NASA is sponsoring a Special Edition Challenge focusing on technology demonstrations for In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) capabilities on Mars, particularly extracting water from simulated Martian subsurface ice. Improving ISRU capabilities will be a large emphasis at LaRC over the next few decades, and the RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge offers a unique way for NASA LaRC to recognize RASC-AL’s important place in its history while also linking the competition to its future.

Through the Mars Ice Challenge, NASA seeks innovative concepts from undergraduate and graduate students that explore and demonstrate methods to extract water from Mars ice deposits.  In this exciting design competition, participants are required to physically build and test prototype ice drilling systems that will compete to extract the most water from simulated Martian subsurface ice over a two-day period during the summer of 2017 at NASA LaRC in Hampton, VA. Drilling systems must operate autonomously or via teleoperation.

Student teams and their faculty advisors are invited to submit an online Notice of Intent by October 14, 2016 and submit project plans of their ice drilling system by November 17, 2016.

Based on a review of the Project Plans by the Steering Committee, up to eight (8) qualifying teams will be selected to receive a $10,000 stipend to facilitate full participation in the Mars Ice Challenge, including expenses for drilling system development, materials, testing equipment, hardware, software and the competition at Langley Research Center.

At the 2017 Mars Ice Challenge in Hampton, the drilling systems will compete to extract the most water from simulated Martian subsurface ice. The simulated subsurface ice will be comprised of layers of dirt/overburden and solid blocks of ice. The total drilling depth will not exceed 1.0 meter and teams may drill multiple holes in the ice. The drilling and water extraction system is subject to mass, volume and power constraints. After completion of the test and validation portion of the project, teams will present their drilling concepts in a design review to a multi-disciplinary panel of scientists and engineers from NASA and industry. Presentations will be based on the team’s technical paper that details the drill concept’s path-to-flight (how the design would be modified to extract water on Mars)..

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 their concepts and offset the cost of traveling to the event.   

For more information on the 2017 RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge, please view the Mars Ice Challenge Competition Overview ­ preview document.

Full competition details will be made by September 23, 2016 on the Mars Ice Challenge Website.

Important Competition Dates

October 14, 2016: NOI deadline for university teams
October 19, 2016: Q&A Webinar for teams with Mars Ice Challenge Steering Committee
November 17, 2016: Project Plan submission deadline
December 9, 2016: Teams are notified of their selection status
April 2, 2017: Mid-Point Progress report deadline
May 30, 2017: Technical Paper submission deadline
June 13-15 2017: Mars Ice Challenge Competition at NASA Langley Research Center

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the RASC-AL team at You may also contact me directly at 757-325-6732 or, or contact Stacy Dees at 757-218-8313 or


If the Mars Ice Challenge is not a good fit for you, you may be interested in one of 2 other exciting NASA-NIA university-level design challenges for the 2016/17 academic year. We encourage you share them, field a team and participate in one of these exciting alternative competitions:


  1. RASC-AL Deep Space Subsystem Concepts Competition:  (4 different themes)
  2. lightweight exercise suite
    b. airlock design
    c. commercially habitable LEO/Mars habitable module
    d. logistics delivery system
  3. Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge (design a 200 kW SEP tug)


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