Robotics team wins NASA competition for second time in three years

West Virginia University’s robotic drilling team won NASA’s Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge for the second time in three years with the Mountaineer Ice Drilling Automated System III (MIDAS III).
By Paige Nesbit August 18, 2019
WVU Professor Powsiri Klinkhachorn, Derek Roesch, Bertrand Wieliczko Ian Hostottle, Nathan Owen and Karan (Kermit) Sah make up the MIDAS III team. Courtesy: West Virginia University

West Virginia University’s robotic drilling team won NASA’s Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge for the second time in three years.

It wasn’t certain until the very end that WVU’s Mountaineer Ice Drilling Automated System III (MIDAS III), led by Powsiri Klinkhachorn, was going to pull out the victory over teams from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stevens Institute of Technology, Virginia Tech or Northeastern University, the 2018 winner.

“Our students can compete with anyone and I believe that the dedication and passion of the student teams and advisors are the key ingredients to WVU’s success,” said Gene Cilento, dean of the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. “Looking back on this NASA prestigious and selective competition for the last six years, our team has won the first place three times, second place three times, and number of additional awards.”

Derek Roesch of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, Bertrand Wieliczko of Holderness, New Hampshire, Ian Hostottle of Williamstown, Nathan Owen of Fairfax, Virginia, and Karan (Kermit) Sah of Lexington, South Carolina, are the men behind MIDAS III.

WVU was a close second to MIT at the close of the first day of competition at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

Klinkhachorn said WVU was one of three teams that extracted water from the test bed on the first day, with MIDAS III pumping 2,040 mL, the most of any team; however, MIT got an extra 103 mL in the hands-off operation.

After a drill bit stuck in hard layer of overburden and then came loose from the drilling apparatus, the team called off its all-in-one probe down to the ice layer with only three-and-a-half hours to hit water on the second day. Minor repairs and a part replacement left MIDAS III in good shape to finish the competition.

“We were able to get down to the ice layer within 50 minutes, so we just needed to melt the ice and recover the water,” Klinkhachorn said.

When a sensor didn’t register the presence of water, though, the team wasn’t sure if MIDAS III had been successful.

“We waited until the last 45 minutes of the competition and then started to pull the water out,” Klinkhachorn said. “With a bit of surprise, the water kept coming.”

In fact, it kept coming at a rate of 10 times more than the second-place team, Stevens Institute of Technology.

Just like drilling for water on Earth, the team didn’t know exactly what it would encounter when drilling through layers of soil and rock. One of the extremely hard overburden layers took its toll on MIDAS III, claiming four polycrystalline diamond compact drill bits.

MIDAS I won first place in 2017 and MIDAS II finished second in 2018.

The team is sponsored by the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, the WVU Honors College, the West Virginia NASA Space Grant Consortium and ProtoLabs. Additional support came from Ilkin Bilgesu as the team’s co-advisor with his expertise in Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering and Jim Hall of the Chemical Engineering Machine Shop who allowed the team to use his machines and for parts fabrication.

West Virginia University

– Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, See more Control Engineering robotics stories.

Paige Nesbit
Author Bio: Paige Nesbit, director of marketing and communications, West Virginia University