Credit: Courtesy | Tyler Guffey

A group of Cal Poly mechanical engineering students and alumni took home the “Most Accurate Digital Core” award from NASA’s Moon to Mars Ice and Prospecting Challenge. The team of eight competed Sept. 23-25 and won the award from NASA thanks to their robot prototype “STYX and STONES.”  

The competition is centered around the discovery of both water and ice on the moon, as well as ice found on Mars. Each team was tasked with creating a prototype that can break through layers of debris and sediment to reach an ice shelf. From there, the prototype must extract the purified water and store it for future space missions. 

“Digital core [means] that Cal Poly was able to more closely describe the real makeup of the soil than any other team,” mechatronics team lead Schuyler Ryan said.

The NASA competition consisted of 12 university teams from across the nation, including MIT and Virginia Tech. This competition can impact how future astronauts are able to receive and store water on space missions. Up to 10 teams were awarded $10,000 to work on their prototype and test it before the competition held at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Restraints were involved with everything including weight, size, power draw and maximum force on the drill bit. The overall goal as explained by Ryan is to solve “a cutting edge problem in aerospace-related to prolonged human settlement on Mars or the Moon, getting clean water.”

The group began their project in 2019, but the competition was canceled due to COVID-19. The team began to formulate and research their design in September 2020. By this month, they had built a fully functional prototype more than a week before the competition. During this period, some of the students had graduated, but they were still able to come together to successfully finish and compete. 

 “​​The competition was awesome,” Ryan said. “It was fun to talk with engineers from all over the country and there were plenty of opportunities to talk to people in the industry as well.”

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