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WVU robotics team places 6th in final round of NASA Centennial Challenge

Members of Team Mountaineers holding a check

Members of Team Mountaineers attended the awards ceremony held at Space Center Houston on Monday, Sept. 27. 

After two years of overcoming adversities, hours of hard work and nearly 35,000 lines of code later, Team Mountaineers from the Statler College at West Virginia University placed 6th out of 22 teams who qualified for the final round of the NASA Centennial Space Robotics Challenge Phase 2.

Story by Olivia Miller, Communications Specialist


The complex lunar resource excavation mission required the team to develop software that would instruct a team of six robots to operate completely autonomously, meaning without human intervention, in a virtual lunar environment to extract resources and return them to a home base.

The goal of the Centennial Challenges is to allow citizens to help NASA solve problems—any individual citizen, organization, or other entity from around the world are allowed to enter the competition. The Space Challenge Phase 2 began in August 2019, with approximately 114 teams vying to solve the technical problem posed by NASA.

After three random competition trials, the team walked away from the second phase scoring an impressive 70 points, 35 points above the 35-point threshold that was the baseline for qualifying and took home a $30,000 prize.

“We’re really happy that we walked away with something with all of the efforts made by the team,” said Jason Gross, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and team leader. “It was a really difficult challenge. One of the toughest aspects is that the teams are all over the world and you have no idea who your competitors are. So, it’s just your team versus the challenge.”

The final round of competition required the execution of three separate tasks by six different robots. The robots worked individually on tasks, but also in coordination with the rest of the cohort. Two scout robots were tasked with finding and mapping lunar resources, while two excavator robots had to excavate resources and dump them into a hauler, and the remaining two hauler robots had to autonomously park at an excavation site and return to its home for processing.

“Our objectives for the team were to grow a new group of leaders in WVU robotics and to share all of our experiences both within our robotics program and the outside world, and we’re hoping that we can continue working in this area and continue making a name for WVU as people who can do this type of work,” Gross said.

NASA awarded a total of $535,000 to the seven highest scoring teams that competed in the challenge. The teams developed code the help advance state-of-the-art autonomous robots for future space exploration missions.

“We had a lot of fun with the challenge. We were able to see that there were a lot of qualified people working on it as well and we were able to see all of their solutions which was really cool,” said Bernardo Martinez, aerospace engineering Ph.D. student. “A lot of the solutions we saw had the same philosophy as well. Overall 6th place is a great result for us.”

The winners were announced at a live stream event from Space Center Houston in Houston, Texas, on September 27.

Students who contributed to the Space Robotics Challenge Phase 2 are Cagri Kilic, Bernardo Martinez Rocamora Junior, Shounak Das, Nicholas Ohi, Rogiero Lima, Matteo De Petrillo, Chizhao Yang, Christopher Tatsch, Jared Beard, Derek Ross, Jared Strader, Trevor Smith, Maria Gonzalez, Gabe Papadopoulous, Uthman Olawoye, Eduardo Gutierrez, and Kieren Samarakoon. Associate Professor Yu Gu and Associate Professor Guilherme Pereira served as team mentors.



Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

For more information on news and events in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, contact our Marketing and Communications office:

Phone: 304-293-4135