Mission Scenario

A hypothetical scenario similar to a real-world lunar mission


The Mission Scenario described below is a hypothetical scenario similar to a real-world lunar mission. Teams will design a system architecture to excavate icy regolith and deliver water based on the locations and sites, environmental conditions, terrain, icy regolith specifications, and hypothetical NASA assets described below.

The Mission Scenario takes place in and around a permanently shadowed region (PSR) near the lunar South Pole. In this scenario, the mission will last 365 Earth days.

The Mission Scenario includes three NASA assets: a NASA Power Plant, NASA Power Distribution, and a NASA Water Extraction Plant. These assets are described in detail below in the NASA Assets section. Teams are not required to use these assets.

Teams’ architectures must:

  1. Excavate icy regolith at the Excavation Site
  2. Extract water from that icy regolith using the NASA Water Extraction Plant or their own method
  3. Deliver that water to the Delivery Site

Although there is no minimum mass of water that must be delivered, NASA is most interested in system architectures that can deliver at least 10,000 kilograms (kg) of water over the duration of the mission. Teams that address this 10,000 kg goal are expected to be scored as having met expectations for the scoring criteria “Estimated Mass of Water Delivered” (see Table 4).


Location & Sites

The lunar surface is significantly cratered, through the processes of meteoroid and asteroid impacts and volcanic activity. Lunar craters range in size from tiny indentations to the enormous South Pole-Aitken basin, which is nearly 2,500 km in diameter, and contains numerous smaller craters. The polar regions have both crater ridges that are exposed to sunlight continuously and depths that are permanently in shadow and extremely cold. Excavation of icy regolith will take place inside PSRs, where water and other volatile substances are naturally preserved.

Specific locations for the mission are described below. The specifications of the locations are representative of the locations, terrain, and distances for various excavation missions under consideration by NASA.

Mission Area:

The total area of operations for the mission. The Mission Area measures 24 km2, centered at approximately 89.58 degrees South and 151.96 degrees West, which is approximately 11 kilometers from the lunar South Pole. Figures 1 and 2 illustrate the Mission Area.

Excavation Site:

A location inside the PSR where icy regolith will be excavated; this site measures 132,500 m2, centered at 89.57 degrees South and 160.77 degrees West, which is 3.27 kilometers from the Delivery Site. The NASA Water Extraction Plant is located 200 meters from the center of the Excavation Site. Figure 3 illustrates the Excavation Site and Water Extraction Plant.

Delivery Site:

A high and flat spot within the Mission Area with a relatively constant amount of sunlight measuring 97,875 m2, 89.56 degrees South and 144.19 degrees West, which is 3.27 kilometers from the center of the Excavation Site. Teams will begin and end the mission at the Delivery Site. Figure 4 illustrates the Delivery Site.

Environmental Conditions

Teams must address the following environmental conditions in the system architecture. Teams may assume that these environmental conditions are present and consistent across the Mission Area, except with regard to the Temperature Ranges, as noted.

Temperature Range at the Delivery Site:

Surface temperature ranges from 50K to 200 K, with a summer average temperature of approximately 130 K and winter average temperature of approximately 80 K. Lighting conditions include a very low sun angle of 1.54 degrees maximum, which ends up giving this area sunlight for approximately 60 percent of a 365 Earth day mission.

Temperature Range at the Excavation Site:

Surface temperature is estimated to range from 40 K to 100 K, with a summer average temperature of approximately 75 K and winter average temperature of approximately 55 K. The Excavation Site is in permanent darkness.


Fine lunar dust, defined as particles smaller than 20 microns in size, is present in the entire Mission Area. This dust is very abrasive to equipment, is electrostatically charged, and can travel long distances when disturbed.

Reduced Gravity:

Gravity on the Moon is 16.6 percent of Earth’s gravity, or 1.62 meters per second squared.


Atmospheric pressure is 2.28x10-12  torr, which is essentially a hard vacuum.


The slope and terrain between the Excavation Site and the Delivery Site is shown in Figure 2. The total elevation change between the two sites is approximately 450 meters.

Links to detailed terrain data are located below

Icy Regolith Information

Teams will assume the following hypothetical information for the icy regolith present at the Excavation Site:

1. The icy regolith water profile shown in Figure 5
2. Bulk density:

  • 0-20cm at 0% H 2 O = 1.47g/cm3
  • 20-100cm at 4% H 2 O = 1.79g/cm3
  • 100-350cm at 10% H 2 O = 1.85g/cm3

3. Porosity:

  • 0-20cm at 0% H 2 O = 46.5%
  • o 20-100cm at 4% H 2 O = 34.9%
  • o 100-350cm at 10% H 2 O = 32.7%

4. Compressive Strength:

  • For regolith with 4% H2O: 1.5-2 MPa
  • For regolith with 10% H2O: 20-35 MPa

5. Tensile Strength:

  • For regolith with 4% H2O: 0.40-0.55 MPa
  • For regolith with 10% H2O: 10-12 MPa

Teams should use this information and the specifications of the Team’s water extraction method (either the NASA Water Extraction Plant provided or the Team’s own method) to estimate the volume of water delivered to the delivery site. Teams should address how they will protect material during transport from losses due to sublimation or other factors. If the material is not protected, Teams must determine the appropriate losses.

Figure 5. Hypothetical Icy Regolith Profile

NASA Assets

Teams may assume that NASA will provide the following assets

  • NASA Power Plant with the following characteristics:
  • Located at the center of the Delivery Site
  • Provides 10 kW electrical power at 120 VDC
  • Provides continuous power regardless of lighting conditions
  • NASA power distribution from the power plant up to 4 km
  • NASA Water Extraction Plant with the following specifications:
  • Mass flow: Input from an excavator into the water extractor at a rate of 100 kg/hr of icy regolith (either granular icy regolith with 4% water content or hard icy regolith with 10% water content)
  • Power utilization:
    • 2.5 kW to produce 1,000 kg of water from 4% (wt) regolith
    • 1.4 kW to produce 1,000 kg of water from 10% (wt) regolith
  • Landed mass: 700 kg

System Architecture Overview

System architectures must include:

  • A description of all hardware needed to complete the mission
  • Note: While automation and Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) systems will be necessary for future missions on the Moon, automation and GNC systems are not required elements of this competition. Manual operation of all equipment in the system architecture is acceptable.
  • A detailed concept of operations, addressing:
  • Movement of hardware from the starting location at the Delivery Site to the Excavation Site
  • Excavation of icy regolith
  • Movement of icy regolith from the Excavation Site to the NASA Water Extraction Plant, including how the material will be protected from sublimation or other losses; alternatively, Teams may describe their own method and location for water extraction
  • Delivery of water to the Delivery Site
  • Information on roads, berms, or other elements that must be constructed to support their architecture (if any)
  • An environmental analysis describing how equipment is expected to perform in extreme lunar environment conditions with regard to temperature, dust, reduced gravity, and vacuum
  • Performance analyses, including:
  • Analysis of the landed mass of each piece of equipment that would need to land on the lunar surface to complete the mission, plus total landed mass, including the mass of the NASA Water Extraction Plant, if the Team is using that NASA asset in their system architecture (see below)
  • Analysis of the mass of water (in kilograms) delivered during the mission
  • Analysis of the energy used by each piece of equipment during the mission, plus total energy consumed
  • Ratio of total water delivered to total landed mass
  • Ratio of total water delivered to total energy consumed

Teams are not required to use the three NASA assets described in the NASA assets section. In calculating mass, Teams are not required to include mass associated with the NASA Power Plant and NASA Power Distribution. However, if Teams are using the NASA Water Extraction Plant, they must include the production rate, energy use, and mass based on the specifications described below.

The total landed mass and volume of the system architecture is not limited in Phase 1 of this Challenge. However, Teams are encouraged to consider the constraints of delivering the hardware associated with their system architecture to the Moon. Below are hypothetical mass and volume specifications regarding lunar landers that may be available to transport equipment to the Moon. Although these benchmarks are hypothetical, Teams should consider them as they develop their system architecture.

Hypothetical mass and volume specifications regarding lunar landers:

  • Lunar landers with the capacity to land 9,000-12,000 kg of landed mass
  • Lunar landers that fit within a rocket fairing with the following internal specifications:
  • Main section:
    • Length: 10.45 meters
    • Diameter: 6.35 meters
    • Volume: 331 cubic meters
  • Nose section:
    • Length: 7.15 meters
    • Diameter: narrows from a maximum of 6.35 meters
    • Volume: 127 cubic meters

Technology Gaps

NASA has identified a number of key technology gaps related to excavation of icy regolith and delivery of water that should be addressed through a Challenge submission.

Technology Gaps

  • Excavation of large quantities of icy regolith
  • Delivery of large quantities of water
  • Hardware and equipment that is lightweight and energy efficient
  • Hardware and equipment that is reliable and durable
  • Hardware and equipment that operates well in extreme lunar environmental conditions,
  • Extreme cold and permanent or near-permanent darkness
  • Vacuum conditions
  • Dust levels found on the lunar surface
  • Reduced gravity

Ready to get started building your solution?

Read the Phase 1 submission requirements.