University Teams Shine in NASA’s Human Lander Challenge

by Clarence Oxford

Los Angeles CA (SPX) Jul 01, 2024

NASA’s 2024 Human Lander Challenge (HuLC) Forum gathered 12 university teams from across the United States in Huntsville, Alabama, near the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center, to present their innovative solutions for managing lunar dust. The 12 finalists, selected in March 2024, showcased their final projects to a panel of NASA and industry experts from the Human Landing Systems Program at the HuLC Forum held from June 25-27.

As part of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration campaign, which aims to send the first woman, person of color, and international partner astronaut to the Moon, managing lunar dust during landing is a critical challenge. Participants in the 2024 Human Lander Challenge developed proposed systems that could potentially be implemented within the next 3-5 years to address lunar plume surface interaction, which occurs when spacecraft touch down on the Moon.

NASA announced the University of Michigan team as the overall winner with their project titled, “ARC-LIGHT: Algorithm for Robust Characterization of Lunar Surface Imaging for Ground Hazards and Trajectory.” They received a $10,000 award on June 27.

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign secured second place and a $5,000 award with their project, “HINDER: Holistic Integration of Navigational Dynamics for Erosion Reduction.” The University of Colorado Boulder took third place and a $3,000 award for their project, “Lunar Surface Assessment Tool (LSAT): A Simulation of Lunar Dust Dynamics for Risk Analysis.”

“Managing and reducing the threat of lunar dust is a formidable challenge to NASA and we are committed to real solutions for our long-term presence on the Moon’s surface,” said Don Krupp, associate program manager for the HLS Program at Marshall. “A key part of NASA’s mission is to build the next generation of explorers and expand our partnerships across commercial industry and the academic community to advance HLS technologies, concepts, and approaches. The Human Lander Challenge is a great example of our unique partnership with the academic community as they help provide innovative and real solutions to the unique risks and challenges of returning to the Moon.”

Two teams received the Excellence in Systems Engineering award:

+ Texas A and M University for their project “Synthetic Orbital Landing Area for Crater Elimination (SOLACE)”

+ Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott for their project “Plume Additive for Reducing Surface Ejecta and Cratering (PARSEC)”

“The caliber of solutions presented by the finalist teams to address the challenges of lunar-plume surface interaction is truly commendable,” said Esther Lee, HuLC judging panel chair and aerospace engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “Witnessing the development of these concepts is an exciting glimpse into the promising future of aerospace leadership. It’s inspiring to see so many brilliant minds coming together to solve the challenges of lunar landings and exploration. We may all come from different educational backgrounds, but our shared passion for space unites us.”

Participants, including students and faculty advisors, had the opportunity to network with NASA and industry experts who are actively working on the Human Landing System capabilities, providing them with unique insights into careers and operations that further NASA’s mission of human space exploration.

NASA’s Human Lander Challenge is sponsored by the Human Landing System Program and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace.

For more information about NASA Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, please visit:

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