Big Win - $750,000 in Prize Money for Lunar Excavators

This has been a great year for the NASA Centennial Challenges program.

In addition to the $1.15 Million so far set to be claimed by Lunar Lander Challenge teams this year, an additional $750,000 in prize money will be awarded to three teams that competed in the Lunar Regolith Excavation Challenge over the weekend in Moffett Field, CA.

October 17-18 marked the 3rd year of the Regolith Excavation competition, with previous years seeing many competitors but no qualifying robotic excavators. In order to qualify, a team must excavate at least 150kg (330 lbs) of lunar regolith simulant (JSC-1A) within 30 minutes. A sandbox of sorts holds about 8 tons of the regolith simulant, and judges place large rocks on the course for added difficulty. In addition, all communications with robots experience a 2-second delay (simulating earth-to-moon transmission time) and once the robot excavates the regolith, it must deposit the regolith in a designated bin outside of the sandbox. Any number of these factors can lead to the demise of a robotic excavator's quest for the prize purse.

This year had 23 registered competitors from around the country. Here are some photos of the various excavators showing the wide diversity in approaches to solving the excavation problem:


Apologies for the low-camera-phone-quality of some of those photos, as they were taken with... well, a camera phone. But you can get an idea of some of the innovative approaches here. Additional photos from the California Space Authority are located here, and links to video and press releases can be found here.

The final standings were as follows:

1st Place, $500,000: Paul's Robotics, Moonraker Robot
= 439 kg excavated

2nd Place, $150,000: Terra Engineering
= 270.6 kg excavated

3rd Place, $100,000: Team Braundo
= 263.75 kg excavated

(Digging photos courtesy of Sam Coniglio, California Space Authority event photographer)

Great job to all of the teams that participated this year! Not only did three teams qualify, but several other teams also managed to gather some regolith this year (although below the qualifying limit of 150 kg). It was extremely encouraging to see the technical progress made by the teams between this year and last. We look forward to hearing what transpires from the 20+ teams involved with the challenge.

Stay tuned for more from the NASA Centennial Challenges as the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge wraps up next week (Oct. 26 - 31). The Astronaut Glove Challenge will also take place on November 18-19 in Florida.

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