NASA's Robotic Mining Competition Provides Undergraduates Full Life Cycle Systems Engineering Experience
INCOSE International Symposium
NASA has held an annual robotic mining competition for teams of university/college students since 2010. This competition is yearlong, suitable for a senior university engineering capstone project. It encompasses the full project life cycle from ideation of a robot design, through tele-operation of the robot collecting regolith in simulated Mars conditions, to disposal of the robot systems after the competition. A major required element for this competition is a Systems Engineering Paper in
... ering Paper in which each team describes the systems engineering approaches used on their project. The score for the Systems Engineering Paper contributes 25% towards the team's score for the competition's grand prize. The required use of systems engineering on the project by this competition introduces the students to an intense practical application of systems engineering throughout a full project life cycle. Recent discoveries by NASA missions to Mars, such as the Mars Science Laboratory rover named "Curiosity" and instruments on orbiting satellites, have found large amounts of water in the form of water ice at the higher latitudes and also hydrated minerals globally on Mars. These sources of water on Mars are the result of ancient clays and clay-like minerals called phyllosilicates, or other poly-hydrated sulfates that formed millions of years ago in wet environments on the surface or underground. Capturing this water is key to allow humans to "live off the land." This is referred to as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). The water can be used for human consumption, hygiene, to make rocket propellant for the journey home, to grow plants, to provide radiation shielding, and can be used in various manufacturing processes.