Day: June 12, 2024

PSTDL Researchers at 2024 Space Resources Roundtable

Michigan Tech’s Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab (PSTDL), led by Assistant Professor Paul van Susante (ME-EM), was represented at the 24th meeting of the Space Resources Roundtable (SRR), held in Golden, Colorado, on June 3–7.

Van Susante presented a poster and chaired a session at the event, and Research Engineer Chuck Carey (ME-EM) and four students presented. The presentations and posters were well received, and Michigan Tech was well represented by the team.

Van Susante chaired the session “Regolith Excavation and Conveyance.” His poster topic was “Lunar and Mars ISRU, Excavation and Construction Test Capabilities and Project Progress at the MTU-PSTDL.”

Carey presented a talk on “Testing a Novel Lunar Regolith Compaction Device for Site Preparation.”

Ph.D. candidate Travis Wavrunek (mechanical engineering) presented a talk on “Development of the TEthered Mechanism for Persistent Energy Storage and Transmission (TEMPEST) System for the Watts on the Moon Challenge.”

Recent graduate Ellie Zimmermann ’24 (B.S. Mechanical Engineering) presented a talk on “Cryogenic Vacuum Testing of a Heated Cone Penetrometer for Thermal Detection and Quantification of Water in Icy Lunar Regolith Simulant.” Zimmermann is an incoming PSTDL Ph.D. student.

Undergraduate student Robin Austerberry (mechanical engineering) presented a poster on “Durability Testing of a Lunar Surface Excavation Rover.”

Recent graduate Christi LeCaptain ’24 (B.S. Mechanical Engineering), the outgoing team lead for MTU Lunabotics, participated with the rest of Michigan Tech’s representatives in a site visit with Lunar Outpost, one of our research project partners. LeCaptain is also an incoming PSTDL Ph.D. student.

The SRR promotes knowledge, advances education, and provides information on availability, applicability and status of development of the resources of space beyond the atmosphere of the Earth.

Michigan Tech’s PSTDL Competing in Break the Ice Challenge Finals

Paul van Susante (ME-EM) and 16 student researchers from Michigan Tech’s Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab (PSTDL) are in Huntsville, Alabama, this week competing in the final round of NASA’s Break the Ice Lunar Challenge, being held June 8–15, 2024, at Alabama A&M University.

Begun in 2020, the Break the Ice Lunar Challenge asked competitors to propose robotic systems that can use resources found on the lunar surface in regolith (icy moon dust) to aid astronauts living on the moon. The PSTDL is one of six teams competing in the finals—three led by universities and three led by industry companies.

Yesterday and today (June 11–12), the PSTDL is participating in Phase 2, Level 3 of the challenge—its final round, and the culmination of more than three years of work and four rounds of the competition. The finals are being livestreamed on NASA’s Break the Ice Lunar Challenge website.

The PSTDL took part in the excavation portion of the challenge yesterday. If the schedule remains accurate, the team will compete in the transportation portion today (June 12) at 4 p.m. ET.

Watch for the results to be announced by NASA on FacebookX (formerly Twitter), Instagram, and Break the Ice’s news page and main page.

How We Got Here

  • December 2022: The PSTDL is one of 15 teams selected to advance to the semifinals after competing in the Phase 2 qualifying round.
  • December 2023: NASA narrows the field to six finalists — including the PSTDL.
  • February 2024: Alabama A&M is selected to host the challenge’s final round.


NASA mentioned Michigan Tech’s Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab as one of three teams that “performed exceptionally well” in the excavation portion of the final round of the Break the Ice Lunar Challenge. Along with the two prize-winning teams, NASA invited the PSTDL to use the thermal vacuum chambers at its Marshall Space Flight Center to continue testing and development.

Play video
Preview image for  video