Cal Poly Team Advances to Finals in NASA’s Contest to Extract Water from Moon or Mars

A Cal Poly team works on a project that is a finalist in a NASA competition.
Dominic Duran, left, the team’s structures design lead, and Tyler Guffey, who leads the electrical design, test a prototype frame for Cal Poly’s entry in the 2021 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts — Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Special Edition: Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge. The eight-member team advanced to the semifinals of the competition to harvest ice on Mars and the moon to further space exploration missions. The Cal Poly entry is named Sub-lunar Tap Yielding eXplorer and Surface Telemetry Operations and Next-generation Excavation System, or STYX & STONES, in the 2020-21 challenge. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Leclere)
A Cal Poly team works on their project for a NASA competition.
Bradley Behrens of Nipomo, who is the team’s water processing lead, with Cal Poly’s entry in the 2021 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts — Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Special Edition: Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge. The Cal Poly entry is named Sub-lunar Tap Yielding eXplorer and Surface Telemetry Operations and Next-generation Excavation System, or STYX & STONES, in the 2020-21 challenge. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Leclere)

A team of students developing a device to harvest water from ice on the moon and Mars is now one of ten schools that will compete in the finals of a NASA contest that is fueling interest in extended manned space missions.

The team, named STYX & STONES, advanced from the semifinals in the Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Special Edition: Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge. The finalists will design, build and test prototype systems capable of extracting water from ice deposits buried beneath simulated lunar or Martian soil.

This is only the second time a Cal Poly team has entered the contest, and it is the second time Cal Poly has made it to the finals. After last year’s team made it to the finals, the contest was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s finals competition was originally set for this June at NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia. But the event will be rescheduled to the fall because of the pandemic. This year’s team members, who will have graduated by then, include Bradley Behrens, Dominic Duran, Jacob Everest, Tyler Guffey, Michelle Leclere, Alex Martinez Rebecca Rodriguez, and Schuyler Ryan. 

The team members met regularly online via Zoom and in-person three times to examine last year’s Cal Poly prototype and to put together their own concept. The team was one of 12 to make it to the semifinals. That group has now been narrowed to nine, and the three remaining semi-finalists will compete for the final, tenth spot.

After the semifinals, judges offered positive feedback, concerns and suggestions for the projects.

NASA has confirmed water on the sunlit surface of the moon and ice at the poles in addition to extensive subsurface water-ice deposits at mid to high latitudes on Mars. Being able to harvest and use that water is another feat. The innovation challenge for the university teams aims to advance critical technologies needed to make it possible. The teams will design and build hardware that could identify, map and drill through various subsurface layers, then extract water from a 600-pound ice block in a simulated off-world test bed.

The other finalists include Auburn University; Colorado School of Mines; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Northeastern University (with Design Automation Associates); San Diego State University (with Collins Aerospace); South Dakota State University; Stevens Institute of Technology; University of Pittsburgh.

The Cal Poly College of Engineering understands there has been an enormous amount of turmoil and transition due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). As we continue offering support to our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends, we also continue providing critical updates as well as college highlights. Ours is a college full of creative and bright engineers and staff. For more information on COVID-19 visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. For more information on how Cal Poly is responding to COVID-19, visit the Cal Poly Coronavirus website Coronavirus website.

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