The NASA Regolith Excavation Challenge was held on August 2 and 3 on the campus of the California Poly - technic State University in San Luis Obispo, CA. The competition required teams to build a roving excavator that could autonomously navigate, excavate, and transfer 150 kg of simulated lunar regolith (lunar soil) into a collector bin within 30 minutes. Excavating lunar regolith will be an important part of any construction projects or processing of natural resources on the Moon. NASA is looking for new ideas for excavation techniques that do not require excessively heavy machines or large amounts of power.
The California Space Education and Workforce Institute managed this challenge and the 2008 prize purse was $750,000. Twenty-five teams registered for the competition and worked on entries over the past year. Sixteen teams came to San Luis Obispo to compete and although no team was able to win the prize, the competition was very spirited. The challenge was significantly more difficult than last year’s event. To autonomously navigate through randomly placed rocks and to reach a collection box at the top of a ramp proved to be a taxing technical challenge for all of the entrants. The task required expert integration of multiple systems and thorough testing of complex operational scenarios. Following the competition phase of the event, many of the teams did demonstrate their excavators under less demanding conditions and some were able to deliver loads of regolith to the collection box.
No cash prizes were awarded but the judges did select three teams for recognition. Tech Ranch, Slobotics, and Team Walbaum were designated for first, second, and third prize, respectively. The competitors included several universities, small businesses, and a few individuals. Most of the teams expressed an interest in having another chance to win the prize. NASA and the California Space Education and Workforce Institute will discuss the possibility of offering the prize at a similar event next year.
The Regolith Excavation Challenge is one of seven NASA Centennial Challenges. The General Aviation Technology Challenge was held August 4-10 in Santa Rosa, CA. The Lunar Lander Challenge will be held October 24-25 in Alamogordo, NM. The Power Beaming and Tether Challenges are planned for the autumn of 2008 and the Astronaut Glove Challenge will be held in April 2009.
For more information on the NASA technology prize program visit: centennialchallenges.nasa.gov/ .