AU Press Releases

AU Engineering Students in Top Tier of NASA Competition

Pictured above, Professor Seong-Jin Lee with AU students teamed on the RASC-AL project

Pictured above, Professor Seong-Jin Lee with AU students teamed on the RASC-AL project

 A team of Alfred University undergraduates in the Inamori School of Engineering has advanced to the final round of a competition sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to design and build a water extraction system for future human settlements on Mars.

NASA identifies water production as a critical component for eventual exploration, and even possible settlement, of the planet. The mechanism designed by Alfred University students – called the Multi-Stage Ice Drilling and Extraction System – employs two augurs, one embedded within the other, to drill through surface material and then into subsurface ice. The heated interior augur would extract ice slush from the subsurface; additional filtering mechanisms would remove impurities from the slush.

“I believe this is one giant leap for us and Alfred University,” said Professor Seong-Jin Lee, faculty advisor for the student group. “It shows our potential as a small university, and it generates enormous motivation and encouragement to share our ideas and knowledge with other students nationwide.”

The next step for the Alfred University team is further refinement and testing of the extraction system, with financial support from NASA totaling $5,000. The team hopes to win an invitation to NASA’s Langley Research Center in June 2017 and participate in the agency’s Mars Ice Challenge Competition.

The group is composed of three senior and 12 junior students: Edward Kimble, project leader; Nicholas Fletcher, mechanical lead; Jon Cross, electrical/controls lead; Hayden Allis, Nathan Auernhamer, Bryan Boylston, Elizabeth Burnett,  Eric Dreyfus, Nicholas Jensen, Kobe Joseph, Nolan Matthews, Kyle McCullen, Michael Nowak, Matthew Raymond, and Michael Wheeler.

The team developed its extraction system within the larger theoretical framework of in situ resource utilization, a concept that calls for the development of on-site survival mechanisms as opposed to the transportation of critical survival resources via spacecraft. In anticipating future settlements on Mars, NASA has argued the development of on-site water resources is a critical early step.

“NASA’s philosophy for quite some time in selecting destinations for human exploration is to ‘follow the water’,” says Robert Moses, Aerospace Engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center.  “Results of our Mars mission campaign studies continue to illustrate how critically important the water is on Mars for making the fuels and crew consumables (including spare parts) needed on Mars and when returning to Earth.  Any mission to Mars without the ability to access the water is simply unsustainable and too risky.”

The Alfred University team developed the Multi-Stage Ice Drilling and Extraction System under the auspices of NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage (RASC-AL), a program that organizes competitions among university engineering students in order to develop innovative solutions to practical challenges facing the space industry.

Alfred University’s team of engineering students will continue working on the Multi-Stage Ice Drilling and Extraction System in competition with other systems designed by students at The Colorado School of Mines, North Carolina State University, The University of Pennsylvania, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and The University of Texas at Austin, West Virginia University.