Skip to content

University of Tennessee Team Selected to Participate in NASA’s Mars Ice Challenge

A team of students from the University of Tennessee (UT) is one of eight university teams selected to participate in the Mars Ice Challenge, a special edition of NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts—Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) competition for graduate and undergraduate university-level students studying fields with applications to human space exploration.

For the Mars Ice Challenge, the team must demonstrate a way to extract water from the large ice deposits believed to be just under the surface of Mars, which could enable a sustained human presence on Mars. According to RASC-AL’s website, the team members will take on the role of astronauts on Mars who monitor and control drilling operations.

The UT team, made up of 21 students, most of whom are majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering in the Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering (MABE) department, received $10,000 from RASC-AL to fund construction of their proposed robotic prototype

MABE Assistant Professor Brett Compton is the faculty advisor for the team. “It is a pleasure to mentor this exceptional group of UT students as they prepare for the Mars Ice Challenge competition,” said Compton. “It is particularly encouraging to see the level of responsibility, organization, enthusiasm, and creative thinking that they display running the team and creating their design proposal. It is a daunting task to design a water harvesting system for the Martian environment, but the team has done a great job creating a design that uses the low temperature and pressure of the Martian atmosphere to their advantage. I am looking forward to seeing the robot take shape over the coming months in preparation for the competition this summer.”

Four team members and Dr. Compton will attend the competition, where they will present their concept to a panel of judges, and demonstrate their drilling system on simulated Martian subsurface ice stations, which will be solid blocks of ice covered with a mixture of clay and gravel approximately one meter deep. They will be competing against the other seven teams to extract the most water from the ice station.

In addition to the demonstration, the team is also required to submit a technical paper and present a poster at the competition.

The top two overall winning teams will receive a travel grant to present their concept at a NASA-chosen event.

The competition will take place June 13-17, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary celebration activities at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

For more information on the Mars Ice Challenge, visit

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.