SDSU engineering students compete on national level

South Dakota State University

Sponsored - A group of South Dakota State University engineering students is celebrating another successful milestone in the latest phase of NASA’s Break the Lunar Ice Challenge. The challenge is a competition designed to develop new technologies that could support sustained human presence on the moon.

SDSU’s team, known as Space Trajectory, is one of 15 finalist teams from around the world. Some of the teams are from other universities, while most are from private aerospace companies.

Operating in extremes

Teams were tasked with designing a robotic system for digging and moving large quantities of icy moon dirt in extremely cold and dark places. These systems will need to be able to operate in extreme cold and near-total darkness, a current technology gap for NASA.

Now in Phase II, Level Two of the competition, the SDSU students had until early fall to build and test prototypes. This phase included autonomously grinding and delivering 800 kilograms (1,760 pounds) of concrete daily for 15 consecutive days, which was constantly recorded by a variety of cameras and verified by NASA.

Equipment in action

During the 15 days of testing, which took place at L.G. Everist’s sand and gravel pit in Brookings, students took turns continuously monitoring the equipment, often for 14 hours a day or longer. The equipment involved includes a large excavator the size of a sedan, a battery-swapping rover, a dump truck to transport material and a stationary battery-charging station. The Space Trajectory team operated the technology through a mix of computers, monitors, phones and video game controllers.

If the machinery had broken down at any point during the testing period, the team would have been unable to advance in the competition.

In Phase II, Level Three of “Break the Ice,” qualifying teams will put their prototypes to the test in a head-to-head onsite competition for a shot at $1.5 million in prizes.

Building something greater

“Break the Ice” is just one example of SDSU students and faculty harnessing innovation to build something greater for the future. Learn more about how SDSU is making a difference in the world at

South Dakota State University
South Dakota State University