54 SERVO 09.2015
NASAhas put on this event for six years now, starting with only about 13 teams. Every year,
the competition has grown in size, innovation, and
difficulty. NASA created this competition for university-level
students in order to assist them with a very real and
practical issue: mining in space.
With the idea of space exploration quickly turning into
space habitation, humans are going to need certain things
while living on a new planet. Access to raw natural
materials is among the most important aspects of living in
space, right up there with access to oxygen and water.
NASA wanted help with their creative and innovative
process, and in 2010 enlisted the help of university students
all over the country. Teams from over 20 different schools
came to Cape Canaveral to check out the visitor complex
and more importantly, compete. Montana State University
came out on top that year winning the grand prize.
The competition has only grown since that inaugural
2010 year, with over twice the amount of teams entering this
year. So, what all is there to this competition? Well, teams
are doing more than sending a robot out to collect dirt.
A special material called Black Point-1 (BP-1) is used to
simulate the regolith on the Moon, and is extremely fine
and often difficult for wheels to maneuver in. Participating
teams must navigate the arena using either wireless
controls or autonomous programming. The person
controlling the robot must sit in NASA’s mobile mission
control cars, which could realistically be used in space some
day in order to simulate an actual mission occurring on
another world. The robots must then collect a minimum of
10 Kg of regolith in their two separate runs, and deposit
the mined substance in a collection bin.
Although the mining portion of the competition is the
one that gets the most focus, there are many other aspects
of this event that must also be taken care of by the
participants. Teams must do an outreach program and write
a report on it. This could be anything from presenting their
robot at a local elementary school to doing a small
demonstration at a local library — anything that benefits the
community and brings more awareness to STEM (Science,
In the blistering Florida May heat,
49 teams gathered under an air
conditioned tent in the NASA
Visitor Center. The sound of
mechanical work and the rumble
of a crowd was penetrating the
hot air and escaping outside
where another huge tent — this
one housing an arena and
bleachers — could be seen.
Another year, another NASA
sponsored Robotic Mining
By Holden Berry
Teams file in from around the country to compete
in another NASA robotic mining matchup.
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