The insider's guide to the Jerome Fisher Program at the University of Pennsylvania

M&Ts Set Their Sights on Mars with the Mars Ice Challenge


M&Ts Wanda Lipps and Michel Gromis (’17) have set their sights to the stars. For their senior design project, the two are designing a drill to extract ice samples on Mars.

The design is in response to the Mars Ice Challenge. This NASA competition sprung from the recent discovery of ice deposits beneath the Martian surface. Mars is the new frontier for space exploration – enticing NASA and private companies such as SpaceX to harness resources for use on the planet, or in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). Water is not only necessary for life support but a needed ingredient for fuel production for return missions. So, NASA is in search of cost-effective and efficient missions and is soliciting the help of University students.

The team’s extraction mechanism

The NASA challenge compels students to create solutions within design constraints to drill into a simulated Martian surface and convert the ice to water. The design constraints are inspired from real space challenges – such as high transportation costs, remote location, limited energy, and low gravity conditions. The constraints include:

  • Must be smaller than 1m x 1m x 2m tall
  • Must weigh less than 50kg
  • Cannot use more than 1200W of energy and exert a weight on bit that exceeds 100 N
  • Must be teleoperated or autonomous
  • Must be able to withstand -26C

In November, teams across the country submitted proposals to compete at Langley Research Center on June 13th in the semi-finals. Wanda and Michael’s team of six (all mechanical engineers) was selected as one of eight teams to receive a stipend of $10,000 for prototype creation.

We asked the two about their design:

Digital rendering of the team’s design

“Our design centers around solid extraction of the ice to melt it in a controlled environment. First, our system will extract a core from the simulated environment which consists of half a meter of ice covered by half a meter of a clay and gravel mixture. Once extracting the core, the system will move the core to a melting chamber where two heating plates will melt the ice to convert it to water. If gravel or clay get into the melting chamber, the water goes through a filtration system before being sent to an external storage tank.”

The team will be showing off their impressive design June 13-15 at NASA Langley Research Center. We wish Wanda , Michael and their team the best of luck in the competition!

You can read more about the Mars Ice Challenge on the National Institute of Aerospace website at


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