Preparing for the 2009 Regolith Excavation Challenge

Terra Engineering is one of the competitors in one of the NASA Centennial Challenges Program - the Regolith Excavation Challenge.

The California Space Education and Workforce Institute (CSEWI) is administering the contest, which includes a prize pot of $750,000.  It is scheduled to be held at NASA Ames Research Center in San Jose, California on October 17 & 18, 2009.

Entrants are required to design & build a roving regolith (moon dust) excavator that can “navigate, excavate, and transfer 150 kg of simulated lunar regolith into a collector bin with 30 minutes”. As new methodologies and technology are developed to excavate lunar regolith, lunar resource utilization becomes a closer reality.  The physical properties of lunar regolith are unique, making excavation challenging. Lunar regolith excavation can make a significant contribution to the United State’s space exploration operations.

As stated in the 2007 Regolith Excavation Centennial Challenge Overview website (http://www.californiaspaceauthority.org/regolith-2007/), the lack of atmosphere on the moon leaves it exposed to the environment, including space weather (solar wind and radiation) a well as micrometeriorite impacts.  The environment is the fundamental contributor to the highly compacted moon surface soil. This creates a surface that is highly resistant to penetration, thus making excavation challenging. A lunar regolith excavator must be lighter and require little power in order to be effective in a realistic lunar mission scenario.

Current excavation technologies are very heavy, use large amounts of power, and require human operators.  In order to facilitate in-situ lunar resource utilization, significant technology development is needed. The Regolith Excavation Challenge is intended to encourage competitors to expand the design envelope beyond what is possible with existing excavation systems.

The Terra Engineering team is entirely self-supported, with team members hailing from the aerospace/defense industry in southern California.