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.

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