WVU to compete in third-straight Moon to Mars Ice and Prospecting Challenge

For the third straight year, a team from West Virginia University will compete in the Moon to Mars Ice and Prospecting Challenge, a special edition competition under NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage brand of competitions.

Ten university teams were selected for the competition, which challenges finalists to design and build hardware that can identify, map and drill through a variety of subsurface layers, then extract water from an ice block in a simulated off-world test bed. The challenge seeks to advance critical capabilities needed on the surface of the Moon and Mars.

Looking to build upon its success in the first two challenges, WVU’s Mountaineer Ice Drilling Automated System – or MIDAS III – hopes to again find itself in the winner’s circle. MIDAS I finished first in 2017 and MIDAS II finished second in 2018.

“MIDAS II worked well in all aspects during the competition except for the filtration system, which ultimately led to its inability to continue,” said team advisor Powsiri Klinkhachorn, professor of computer science and electrical engineering. “The team will still use the core concept from last year’s competition and improve MIDAS II to accommodate additional requirements that the sponsor specified.”

According to Klinkhachorn, this year’s teams will have to go through multiple overburden layers with different hardness. They will also have to prospect the different layers in addition to extracting water from the ice layer.

The 2019 team will again be led by Bertrand Wieliczko, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student from Holderness, New Hampshire. Also returning from last year are Jacob Winokur (aerospace engineering; Chesapeake, Virginia), Karan Kermit Sah (aerospace engineering, Lexington, South Carolina), Nathan Owen (mechanical engineering, Fairfax, Virginia), Derek Roesch (electrical engineering, WVU Honors College; Nazareth, Pennsylvania). New additions to the team include John Bright (computer and electrical engineering, Honors College, Butler, Pennsylvania), James Jackman (computer science, Seabrook, Texas), Maura Wieland (electrical engineering, Carnegie, Pennsylvania), Joseph Yeager (electrical engineering, Honors College, Summersville), Ian Hostottle (mechanical and aerospace engineering, Williamstown) and Samuel Price (computer engineering, Honors College, Paden City). Joining Klinkhachorn as an advisor is Ilkin Bilgesu, associate professor of petroleum and natural gas engineering.

Finalists were chosen through a competitive review of project plan proposals. The selected teams are invited to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, June 4-6, 2019, to represent their universities. While at NASA, teams will participate in an on-site technology demonstration, and the prospecting and water extraction competition. Judges include NASA engineers and researchers along with commercial partners from Honeybee Robotics and SpaceX.

Joining WVU in the competition are teams from Carnegie Mellon, Colorado School of Mines, MIT, Northeastern University, Stevens Institute of Technology, University of Houston, University of Tennessee Knoxville and Virginia Tech. Northeastern is the defending champion.

Armed with a $10,000 development stipend and lessons learned from previous competitors, teams now have six short months before going to NASA to build, integrate and test their prototype water extraction systems. Final scoring will be based heavily on their ability to drill through each layer of the simulated subsurface to extract and collect the water found in the ice.

“Through this challenge, college students and faculty are provided a rare opportunity to be at the forefront of one of the most critical in situ resource utilization solutions needed for future human space exploration,” said Shelley Spears, NIA’s director of educational outreach and RASC-AL program director. “Even though the teams are competing against each other, they are also eager to collaborate and share ideas for prospecting and harvesting water on the Moon and Mars. This program is unique because teams work together and learn from each other to make improvements on their technologies, with the shared goal of one day enabling a sustained human presence outside our planet.”

The team is sponsored by the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the West Virginia NASA Space Grant Consortium, the Lane Department and the Department of Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering.

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