Mars Ice Challenge FAQ’s

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A Q&A Session was hosted on October 21st, 2016.
A detailed transcript with responses can be found by clicking on the button below:
Q&A Session Transcript

Please submit additional questions to

Who is eligible to participate in the RASC-AL Mars Ice Challenge?

The RASC-AL Special Edition: Mars Ice Challenge is open to full-time undergraduate and graduate students majoring in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics and related disciplines at an accredited U.S.-based university. Teams may include senior capstone courses, robotics clubs, multi-university teams, multi-disciplinary teams, etc. Undergraduate and graduate students may work in collaboration together on the same team.

Are international students allowed to participate?

Foreign universities are not eligible to participate in the Mars Ice Challenge. However, foreign students who are attending a U.S.-based university are eligible to participate with their team. Please note there is always the possibility that foreign nationals may not be granted access to attend the on-site competition at NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC), due to ever-changing NASA security regulations.

Can multiple teams from the same university submit different proposals to compete in the RASC-AL Mars Ice Challenge?

Yes, multiple teams from the same university can submit separate proposals for the Mars Ice Challenge, and multiple teams from the same university may move on to the next round of the competition if their project plans merit selection into the program.

Is it possible to bring in additional team members, after the abstract is accepted?

Yes, absolutely. We understand that sometimes things change between the time abstracts were submitted and the time the written report is due. We just ask that you list every person who contributed to your project in the final report.

Is industry collaboration, either formally or informally, allowed?

Yes, industry collaboration is certainly acceptable – and encouraged! The RASC-AL competitions are unique university competitions, because they focus on garnering real ideas and concepts that can be incorporated into NASA Human Exploration Operations planning. RASC-AL teams that perform well are often ones that have true support of their faculty advisors and collaborations with industry. We encourage your team to utilize all of the resources you have at your disposal to submit a top-notch abstract response to one of the four RASC-AL themes.

Do I have to cover the costs of participating in the RASC-AL Mars Ice Challenge?

Each team will receive a monetary award to facilitate full participation in the RASC-AL Mars Ice Challenge Forum.

Why does my advisor have to attend the forum?

One Faculty Advisor is required to attend the Forum with each team, and is a condition for acceptance into the RASC-AL Mars Ice Challenge. Advisors can provide guidance and insight into the team's decisions, as well as acting as a primary contact point between the RASC-AL coordinators and the universities.

Teams who do not have a faculty advisor present at the RASC-AL Mars Ice Challenge Forum will be disqualified from competing and participation awards will be subject to return to NIA.

Will the competition environment be at a reduced atmospheric (Mars) pressure?

No, it will be conducted at 1 atmosphere.

What are the dimensions for water collection tank?

It’s a 22 qt. (20 L) bucket.

What is the definition of “remote crew controlled” and how does it differ from autonomous control?

Remote crew controlled allows for the use of a computer distinct from the drilling system (but, if desired, connected by a cable to the drilling system) to operate the drilling system (e.g. to control the speed of the drill). Autonomous control is “hands-off”: once the system starts, no further operation from any crew is required. Either is acceptable.

Does it need to be designed as if it were to be sent to mars? (landing, radiation proofing electronics, martian environment, etc)?

The physical system you build and bring to the competition does not. However, in your paper, you must describe the changes and accommodations that would need to be made such that your system could be used in the Martian environment.

Is the power limitation just on drill or for whole system? Batteries aren’t allowed on the drill, but are they allowed elsewhere like an Arduino?

The power limitation applies to the full drilling system, with the exception of the independent remote crew controlled computer (if used). Likewise, batteries are not allowed for any part of the system.

Only 4 people and a faculty advisor are allowed on site, but can the rest of the team attend the competition?

Technically, on-site is used to refer to the entire competition at NASA Langley Research Center. We will have to address this question after the final 8 teams have been determined.

Will the pitcher mound clay be packed in?

It will not be compressed using machinery – it will be hand packed (but loosely packed)

Is font size requirement for the paper just for the main writing? Does it include captions?

It does not include captions

Are we allowed to have multiple drills within the system? How would this affect the force and weight limitations?

Yes, you may have multiple drills within the system, but the total mass and volume of the entire system must meet the stated design constraints.

Do the power restrictions include the heating and filtration system? Or is it just for the drill?

The power restrictions apply to the entire drill system, including the heating and filtration subsystems

Does the weight on bit pertain just to our cutting tool or the resultant downward force of all components operating in the ice hole?

The weight on bit pertains to the entire downward force of all components operating in the ice hole. The total maximum downward force simultaneously exerted (sum of all the parts pressing down) on the test bed is limited to 100N.

So, for instance, if you use the rotor to move the dirt, and it operates alone, it can exert 100N. A cutting tool that then works alone to drill into the ice could also exert 100N. However, if these two devices were ever operating simultaneously, then the total combined force would be limited to 100N, and each tool would be limited to exerting less than 100N individually.

Is the 2m height restriction absolute or relative to the ground? Also would it be measured when the drill bit is fully extended? So for example would it be from the bottom of the drill bit while its drilling to the top of the system?

Our intent was to have a height limit of 2m above the lid, for safety reasons.

We will take measurements of your drill while it is sitting on the floor, before it is mounted to the test stand. Your drill system should be set up to allow us to measure the maximum potential dimensions (i.e., the drill bit will need to be raised to the maximum height that it would reach during the competition) – which should not exceed 2 meters tall.

For the mid-point progress report should we record the receipts for how our stipend was spent?

You don't need to include receipts for how you've spent your stipends for the mid point progress report. You will be asked to include a budget in your final technical paper, however.

Would it be okay if our design has a drill bit longer than 38.5 in, given that the extra length will be above the lid at all times (the drill bit is physically unable to drill deeper than 38.5in)?

This is fine so long as there is a guard/safe-proof that will keep the drill from going through the cooler. No more than 38.5 inches of the drill may enter the cooler.