[1.Q] There's no
paper aside from the financial report due at the end of the competition, right?
[1.A] Several reports are required this year:
Design and Specification due April 27. See section 2.a and 2.c
report due May 25. See section 4.a
Task at MDRS (May 30 – June 1). See section 3.h
All teams are highly encouraged to
submit abstracts for and present at the Annual Mars Society Convention. Teams
who present have the opportunity to submit full papers to be published by the
Mars Society’s MarsPapers. Teams are also highly encouraged to submit
papers to any other journals or conferences.
[2.Q] Are overamplified communications devices permitted?
[2.A] All communications devices used must adhere to FCC standards.
Any modified devices must be documented and submitted for approval alongside a
statement of applicable FCC regulations. Team members are permitted to
obtain and utilize any relevant licenses, but must document the license,
applicable regulations, and devices as part of the communications documentation
[3.Q] Can teams expect access to a live internet connection
during the competition?
[3.A] Due to significant bandwidth limitations at the MDRS Hab,
teams should not plan for internet to be available in the field. Internet is
available at hotels in Hanksville.
[4.Q] Regarding the landscape in the competition areas, what is
the visibility like between the command station and all competition
areas? Will we have line of sight to our robot, or will there be big obstacles in the way, such as mountains, rock formations, or hills?
[4.A] Teams will be blocked from visually observing the rover and
will need to navigate based solely on data transmitted from the rover
to the command post. There should be radio communication line-of-sight
from the command tent to the rover for the sample return and equipment
servicing tasks. For the terrain traversing task there
should be reasonable line-of-sight for most of the course but it will
not be guaranteed for the whole course since it may be rough and
undulating in places. For the astronaut assistance 1 or 2 of the
astronauts will purposefully be placed out of direct line-of-sight such
as behind a small hill. There will be a separate command station at each
competition area and rovers are not expected to travel more than 1km at
most from the command tent.
[5.Q] Is it allowable for a team member to follow the rover as a
standby for intervention? Specifically, they are there to hit our kill switch
in case of an overcurrent condition (that would kill our computer/motor
[5.A] Teams may allow a member to walk on the course along/near the
rover, and use his/her judgment to activate a kill switch if conditions warrant
such an action. This individual may not otherwise interfere with the rover, and
must do everything reasonable to stay out of view of the rover's
sensors/cameras. If the judges feel that this individual is providing feedback
to the rover or rest of the team through the rover's sensors, the judges may elect
to penalize the team accordingly since this is not allowed under section 1.d.
Similarly, this individual may not communicate with team members in the command
and control tent via voice, radio, etc.; however this individual can be
utilized as a "runner" per section 2.h. of the rules. If this
individual activates the kill switch it will count as an intervention.
Sample Return Task Questions
[6.Q] For those tasks requiring high-resolution images, would a
640x480 image be of high enough resolution, or are you looking for 800x600 and
[6.A] There is no specific minimum resolution requirement. The most
important requirement with cameras is to obtain usable and useful images (i.e.
a 1280x1024 image that is washed out and has almost no color depth is not as
good as a 640x480 image that is perfectly focused, has good white balance, and
is clear). It should go without saying that assuming all other aspects of the
images are constant, higher resolution is better; however resolution is just
one aspect of a quality image.
[7.Q] In the remote science documentation definition, it asks
for a panorama with cardinal directions on the picture and some indication of
scale. Scaling a panorama is not really useful because in the stitching process
of combining pictures, the ranges are often distorted so that the image can fit
the entire horizon. This creates a tunnel vision like phenomenon and scale is
not very useful. Panoramas are used to get an entire horizon shot with the most
information in them. Scale is used for high resolution imaging to locate or
analyze a single subject. Should teams be prepared to present some form
of scale in our panorama?
[7.A] The wide-angle panorama is not required to be a 360 degree
horizon image, and thus does not require image stitching (that is not to
say that stitched images aren't allowed, or aren't useful in their own right).
The intent of the wide-angle image is to provide perspective of the sample
location with respect to the local geography and other features of interest.
The requested scale indication should be applicable to the sample region, and
does not need to be perfectly precise. While a highly accurate scale is always
desirable, the main intent of the scale in a wide-angle shot is to provide an
order-of-magnitude level of spatial awareness (in the desert, without a known
size reference, 100 meter features can easily appear to be close up shots of 10
[8.Q] For the remote science report due at the end of the Sample
Return Task, does that need to be printed or is a soft copy on a disk or flash
[8.A] A written report is not required for the sample return task.
Instead, teams will be giving a field briefing to the judges; 15 minutes to
present data of interest in any format deemed appropriate, and also to field
questions from the judges. The data used in the presentation can be on a laptop
or monitor, or can be printed if the team supplies its own printer. Teams will
be judged on the effectiveness at presenting meaningful analysis over the
course of those 15 minutes, and are not required to submit any hard
[9.Q] Are we allowed to carry a sample from one site and dump it
later if we find a better sample at another site? Will teams be allowed to chip
or drill pieces of the rock away? Is flipping over rocks, or removing a rock
and then returning it to its original location, considered invasive?
[9.A] Yes. Teams can certainly investigate as many sites as time
allows, although please be mindful of being minimally invasive. Teams should
keep in mind that many teams will be investigating the same sample sites, so
rovers should avoid causing major changes that will impact other competitors
(including leaving excessively large holes, and causing significant disturbance
to the soil). In general, physically manipulating a rock for closer inspection
is not considered to be invasive as long as it is done with discretion,
targeting specific samples. As a general rule of thumb, teams should design
their systems to take only the amount of soil needed to perform a given test,
and minimize visual disturbance. Teams should make reasonable efforts to return
rocks they flip to their original orientation. If there is still uncertainty
regarding a particular science package design, teams are encouraged to discuss
designs with the URC Director in advance.
[10.Q] In regards to the
Sample Return Task, is the soil composition going to be such that we would be
able to just scoop it up, or is it going to be compacted enough that we would
need a drill? Will there be any indication of where to perform the soil tests?
There won’t be large purple or green patches of cyanobacteria in plain view,
right? How dispersed throughout the soil will they be? Will we need to test
multiple times in the same locale?
[10.A] There are many different types of soil conditions at MDRS
(this is also partly influenced by the amount of rainfall the region receives
in the late spring and early summer). There is no specific guidance on the
specific sample types that teams should be prepared for (i.e. hard rock vs.
soft soil). This is left as a design decision for each team.
Judges will be providing general descriptions of the task site. Otherwise, no
markers will be provided. It is the intent of this task that teams search for
any evidence of extremophiles, and make the case for their existence. Depending
on the amount of rain that the region has received throughout the spring, the
relative levels of reflected light in the spectra of interest can be higher
than would otherwise be encountered throughout the year. This does not mean
that teams should expect to encounter bright green patches with high contrast
from the background (teams are, after all, searching for extremophiles), but
teams will be afforded a seasonal advantage. Soil is not the only place where
evidence of extremophiles may exist. For example desert varnish could be
visible on rocks at a distance. Also, remember that a major component of this
task will be how well teams justify their results in the field briefing based
on the data that they did collect.
[11.Q] Regarding the Sample Return Task, are there any
restrictions or issues with using chemical methods to tests for life, either on
the rover itself or back at the base station during the data analysis period?
[11.A] Teams are permitted to use chemical methods to test for life,
provided their use is consistent with the rules and relevant Q&A (in
particular, Subsection 3.b of the rules, and Q&A topics on this task). The
use of hazardous chemicals should be pre-approved prior to the competition, and
be implemented safely with appropriate precautions and emergency equipment on
hand. As an extension of the requirement for minimally-invasive operations, we
strongly suggest that any liquid or solid chemicals used on-board the rover
should follow a no-spill policy, and be completely contained within the rover
including the by-products of any reactions.
[12.Q]For the Sample Return Task, detailed spectral analysis is
an option that increases the budget (not to mention complexity) of our rover to
a level that may not be feasible. So our question is: How firm are the budget
restrictions? With in-kind donations we think it might be possible to perform
this type of analysis. Otherwise our only option is to purchase an inexpensive
($200) digital microscope and try to image the bacteria with that. However, to
find naturally occurring cyanobacteria with this method would be nearly
impossible. So our other question is: Are judges going to seed the sites with
additional bacteria, so the population density is greater?
[12.A] The objective of this task isn't necessarily to find
conclusive proof of the cyanobacteria or other life forms defined in the task,
but rather to build the case that a particular site likely contains target life
forms. Section 3.c of the rules states that "in the field briefing to
judges, teams will be required to describe and analyze their data for all sites
investigated, and provide a justification for returning the sample that was
selected". Regarding the cost of various tools and sensors, this is one of
many trade-offs that teams are required to make as part of their design
process. Section 3.b for example suggests using reflected visible light as the
primary indicator of the presence of extremophiles. Part of the judges' decision
will also focus on how well teams have used the tools that they do have, and
how well they interpreted the data returned to make an educated analysis. The
judges will ensure that this task is feasible in terms of finding sufficient
opportunities for data collection to enable an educated analysis. In regards to
the budget restrictions - these are firm limits. Teams may only field equipment
that is listed on their budget submission. Teams should also take note of
[13.Q] For the Sample Return Task, are teams allowed to do
further experiments on the returned sample once the rover is back at the start
point (command and control tent) during the field briefing preparation time?
More specifically, are teams allowed to have different lab equipment in the
command and control tent? If yes, is there any restriction for number of
[13.A] Teams are allowed to perform additional analysis on the
returned samples, and there are no restrictions (mass or budget) on the
equipment that may be used in the command and control tent. The primary intent
of this analysis should be to confirm analysis performed with the rover and to
support the justification made when selecting the sample for return. Sample
investigations should not be based solely on post-traverse analysis. Before
teams begin any sample-destructive testing, they are required to photograph the
sample on the scale (to be provided) to ensure that it meets the mass
requirements. In the field briefing to judges, teams will be expected to tie
any post-traverse analysis to their in-field analysis and selection criteria.
Points will be awarded not by the size and extensiveness of a team's
laboratory, but rather based on how well teams are able to relate their
analysis to the work performed with the rover. The main idea is to judge the
performance of the rover as described in section 3c. Teams must notify the URC
Director if they intend to use any power-intensive equipment in the command and
[14.Q] Regarding the Sample Return Task, the rules state that
teams are to return a single sample weighing between 25-250g. However, in
previous years, some teams have returned multiple samples that they thought
were good and through base station analysis select the best one. What are
the guidelines regarding that this year? Will we also be able to collect
multiple samples, and if we can, do all these samples together have to weigh
less than 250g or each sample taken can range from 25-250g?
[14.A] Teams may chose only one discrete sample to return on board their
rover from the field. Teams may select multiple samples in the field for
closer inspection, and may even carry multiple samples while looking for other
potential options. However, teams must clearly keep such samples
separate, and must discard all but a single sample before the rover returns to
the command and control tent. This sample must be 25-250g.
[15.Q] For the
Sample Return Task, teams are allowed to collect multiple samples, but can only
return one at the end of the task. If a rover picks up sample A from Site
A and then finds another sample at Site B that is preferable, will teams be
required to bring sample A back to Site A or would it be acceptable to drop it
at Site B? Also, if the same tool is used to collect both samples, will teams
have to account for contamination (e.g. if there was life teams wouldn't be
able to say definitively that it came from Sample B since the tool also touched
[15.A] Teams will not be required to return a rejected sample to its
original location, however teams should use discretion with disrupting the
environment (see Q&A 8 for more detail) . As with all scientific
analysis, teams must seek to minimize possible sources of contamination, yet
understand and disclose possible sources when they do exist.
[16.Q] Section 3.b says that the sample must be "sub-surface" and "must be collected from just below the topsoil at 5cm (2”) depth or deeper". The Q&A suggests that we can find desert varnish on rocks at the surface. Do we still have a choice to retrieve a soil sample or a rock from the surface, or are the rules implying that we have to dig up a soil sample or a rock that is buried underground?
[16.A] As specified in section 3.b the sample must be obtained from at least 5cm (2") below the surface.
[17.Q] Is it
okay if we pick up both the top soil and soil that's 2" deeper as long
as we can tell where the top soil is (and therefore discard it) at the
[17.A] Teams are permitted to to collect samples that include the topsoil;
however they must be able to distinguish the soil depth for any data
collected, and the topsoil must be discarded for any analysis. The full
sample returned (including topsoil) will be used to determine the returned
[18.Q] For the in situ science capability, is that just any instrument that
can analyze the site? For example, would a spectrometer count for this
or is URC looking for something more elaborate/a wet chemistry
[18.A] Any instrument that produces data to enable useful scientific analysis
is sufficient, including a spectrometer. The cost and complexity of the
instruments are not as important as a thoughtful plan for the field
work, and quality of analysis based on data returned.
Astronaut Assistance Task Questions
[19.Q] For the Astronaut Assistance Task, are teams required to
utilize the VELCRO style fastener to secure the box, or are other fasteners
(ropes, tie downs) allowed? Are the
packages allowed to be modified by attaching our own handles/hooks with
Velcro? Will these handles/hooks count towards the "rover weight" or
the "additional equipment weight"?
[19.A] Teams may implement drop-off package handling devices
for this task that remain fixed to the packages after deployment. Any
such devices shall connect to the boxes using only Velcro style attachments,
weigh no more than 1kg each, and may only connect to one face of each
package. Placement of these additional devices may be done by team
members before the clock officially starts, or by the rover after the clock
starts. Removal of these devices shall not degrade the packages in any
way, aside from normal wear on the package's Velcro style fasteners. No
assurance is made of the strength of adhesives that hold the Velcro style
fasteners to the package, and teams will be penalized if a package is damaged
during transport (e.g. if the Velcro style fastener is removed during
transport). The weight of these devices will count towards the overall
system weight per section 2.b of the rules (they will count against either the
rover weight, or the additional equipment weight, depending upon the rover's
configuration at weigh-in).
Terrain Traversing Task Questions
[20.Q] Could you clarify on the following subjects? We need these information for estimation of power consumption/torque. The rule mentioned "step-like drops" and "steep slopes in excess of
45%." Will such "boulders" be only small portions of the route (i.e.
only one step drop boulder along the route; only few feet of steep
slope) or more of a continuous part of the path (i.e. several step-down
paths; continuous climb along a steep path for more than 10 feet)? Should we expect the "steep slopes in excess of
45 degrees" be an angle that is relatively close to 45 degrees, or will
an angle as steep as 60 degrees?
[20.A] The course will feature a range of terrain at increasing levels of
difficulty. Teams should expect some easy terrain, some moderate
terrain, and some difficult terrain. Easy terrain may include small
isolated drops and shallow slopes. Extremely difficult terrain may
include continuous steps and slopes even steeper than 60 degrees,
although we do not expect rovers to be able to climb or traverse
vertical faces. The course will be designed to try and avoid teams
getting completely stuck if they cannot overcome a particular obstacle.
For example if they cannot climb a steep slope to a gate, they may be
able to skip it and try their luck at another gate. Exact specifications
are purposefully not given, so teams will need to make their own
decisions on compromises between capability in this and other tasks,
weight, durability, complexity, cost, etc. Such ambiguity is a
fundamental tenant of exploration since in
real life often you don't know enough information to make the "right"
choice, and you need to make educated guesses. That's part of the fun
of real engineering!