Updated 2023-10-23 

2023-10-23 Competition Q7. Rover Q12. Science Q21, Q22, Q23, Q11 updated, Q16 updated. Delivery Q6, Q7. Autonomy Q8 (+rules!), Q9.
2023-10-15 Science Mission Q&A Updated for URC2024 (Q6 updated, Q9-20 are new)
2023-09-23 New Q&A for URC2024

Competition Questions

[1.Q] Can teams ask questions?
[1.A] Yes. Questions and answers are added to the Q&A. See the contact page if you have any questions. 

[2.Q] Are there videos of rovers completing the tasks?
[2.A] The judges do not plan on making videos of the updated tasks or the infrastructure, but many videos of past competitions are available online. These are a good source of information on previous tasks and rovers.

[3.Q] Will there be any help with visa procedures for international teams?
[3.A] There is no direct assistance with the visa process, although URC will provide a letter of support upon request. Early application is advised for as many team members as possible. Letters of support will be issued on request after a team is registered.

[4.Q] When will we know our schedule? Is there a set order of the tasks?
[4.A] You will be given your exact schedule prior to the first day of the field competition. The order of tasks will be different for each team and is the luck of the draw.

[5.Q] Different regions pay different taxes which puts regions with higher taxes at a financial disadvantage, with respect to the $22,000 budget cap.
[5.A] These are just some of many region-specific pricing factors such as raw materials, labor costs, and exchange rates. Few teams get close to fielding a $22,000 rover and the correlation between budget and score is extremely weak with a huge standard deviation. We will review the budget rules if in the future they do appear to become an important factor in the success of teams at URC.

[6.Q] If an item that is on sale at a discount to only students from our country, can we use that price in our budget, or do we need to use the price that would be available to all teams? 
[6.A] This is another region-specific pricing factor. You may use the student price even if only available to students from your country, provided that it is available at that price to any student from your country, not just your university. 

[7.Q] We're planning on building multiple prototype rovers.  Do all or just one rover count towards the $22K limit
[7.A] As per rule 2.d.iv prototypes and spare parts do not count towards the $22K limit. The limit applies to  whatever you field in competition (including the base station). 

Rover Questions

[1.Q] Can we make changes to the rover after the PDR/SAR or during the competition? 
[1.A] For an actual mission you would be expected to freeze the design after the SAR. However, for URC you may make changes to your rover at any point. During the field competition you will have to watch your weight and budget limits, (such as the replacement of a faulty camera or GPS unit with a $1000 smartphone). During a mission you may have an intervention at a 20% penalty, where the aim is to allow you to fix a broken rover if you need to, not to swap out modular components. 

[2.Q] What are the penalties for exceeding the 70 kg total limit or are there only penalties for exceeding the 50 kg single configuration limit? Are there penalties for exceeding the $22K cost limit?
[2.A] The 70 kg total mass and $22K are strict limits. In a real space program you will typically be given strict weight, size, and budget limits, and short of exceptional circumstances will be expected to stick to it. If you rover is over 70 kg you will have to discard parts, drill holes, or whatever it takes until your rover is under the limit.  

[3.Q] Is a magnetometer allowed for navigation? We designed our navigation system using a magnetometer, then realized the magnetic field on Mars is not sufficient to use on an actual Mars Rover.
[3.A] Yes, even though they are not analogous to operations on Mars, it would be difficult for us to verify that teams aren't using a digital compass or magnetometer. 

[4.Q] Can we include a microphone on the rover? Listening to rover's sounds, not just relying on sensor data, during tasks is great help for operator to determine if everything is working correctly.
[4.A] Yes, microphones are permitted on the rover. Judges monitor conversations and actions that occur near the rover. Spectators are not allowed to provide commentary or other feedback to the operators and should take care not to do so, even if there is not a microphone onboard.

[5.Q] Is it permissible to utilize a satellite internet provider, such as Exede, HughesNet, or Starlink in order to achieve a data connection with the robot?
[5.A] Not for the 2024 competition, but will consider changing this in future if there is enough interest. While we do grant GNSS, we currently consider use of a satellite relay to be not quite in the spirit of the competition. However, there are plenty of ways to set up a local transponder in the field which we strongly encourage. 

[6.Q] We have amateur radio operator licenses and would like to use 2.4GHz band with high power, but high power is only allowed in the range 2.39-2.45 GHz (channels 1-6). Would we be permitted to only use channels 1-6?
[6.A] During competition you will likely be randomly assigned 2.4GHz channels 1-3, 5-7, or 9-11 based on whichever control station is available when you arrive. You would be OK using licensed high power on channels 1-3 or 5-6 but would have to drop back to unlicensed power limits on channels 7 and 9-11. We will not guarantee channels ahead because it would make scheduling a nightmare. The URC controls on the 2.4 GHz band are very rigid to ensure that one of the most frequently used bands is well regulated, interference free, and predictable for all teams. If you want to use licensed high power operation you should consider using the amateur bands outside of the URC controlled 2.4GHz wifi and 900MHz RC bands. There are plenty to choose from if you have a license. 

[7.Q] We have a 2.4GHz transceiver we'd like to use that is frequency hopping and can be confined to bandwidth 28MHz centered on what would be channels 1.5, 7, and 12.5. Is this in violation of the rules? If not, do you know of any 2.4GHz or 900MHz frequency hopping transmitters that are compliant? 
[7.A] The rules are very rigid in the 2.4GHz band to make it predictable and interference free for all teams. Since we cannot guarantee teams operating in neighboring channels won't experience interference or offer similar flexibility to all teams we must disallow this transceiver. We do not provide guidance or recommendations on specific products since sourcing parts is a critical aspect of the design and build process. We strongly encourage experimentation and customization of radio equipment, but the 2.4GHz wifi and 900 MHz RC channels are not the best bands to do that on. We suggest you consider the 5GHz band, which is much less popular, has many more bands, is not regulated at URC, and extreme broadband spread-spectrum is standard on many off-the-shelf transmitters. You can also get an amateur radio operator license which will open up many more bands and you can build any kind of modulation, spectrum spread, interference tolerant system you can dream up. 

[8.Q] We are not sure if the specific frequencies and power levels we are considering in the 5 GHz band are allowed. Where can we find the FCC regulations for specific frequency bands? 
[8.A] While URC imposes unique requirements on the use of specific radio frequency bands for communication in the 900 MHz and 2.4GHz bands, teams must also ensure they are complying with all applicable regulations of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  In particular (but not exclusively), teams should pay attention to "Part 15" regulations: Code of Federal Regulations Title 47: Telecommunication, Chapter 1, Subchapter A, Part 15: Radio Frequency Devices. Subpart C: Intentional Radiators, provides details regarding specific frequency bands and their applicable regulations. This is particularly important for teams considering using the 5 GHz band, because while 5+ GHz is not specifically regulated by URC, the FCC regulations here can be confusing.  Do not assume that just because you can buy equipment, you can legally operate the equipment.  Verify the specific frequencies and power levels you will use in the FCC Part 15 regulations.  Note that some frequencies in the 5 GHz range are covered by more than one section of the regulations.

[9.Q] Can you tell us what power levels are acceptable without a ham radio license? We don't think we'll be able to get one before the competition and want to check if our radio will be legal. 
[9.A] See Rover Q8 above where you can find the regulations. Many websites and organizations such as ARRL also have this information in more readable formats. As part of the competition and educational experience we believe it is important for teams to find out where to find this information themselves. For anyone with a background in electronics or physics, a ham radio license is very easy to obtain in just a few weeks. The US has agreements with many countries to allow foreign amateur licensees to operate in the US, and foreign nationals may also obtain a US license. We strongly encourage teams to learn more about radio systems and obtain a license to operate them.

[10.Q] Can we use a drone as a communications relay and/or camera platform in missions other than the Delivery Mission, to assist the rover? 
[10.A] Not for 2024.

[11.Q] Can we use publicly available LIDAR datasets of the terrain of the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) to help inform our algorithms
[11.A] Yes. You may use any LIDAR data, photographs, maps, that you can find. We'll post a link to at least one LIDAR dataset on the resources page.

[12.Q] Can we use a Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS) with our RTK GNSS system
[12.A] You will not have an internet connection in the field and we do not currently allow satellite internet, so you will need to set up your own GNSS base station to do differential GPS. 

Science Mission Questions

[1.Q] What is the difference between the science plan in the SAR (rule 2.b.iii) and the one submitted in May (rule 1.b.i)? 
[1.A] These are two different versions of your science plan you'll need to submit. For the SAR it can be more preliminary, and you won't have much room in the report (1 page) or much time in the video to describe everything. In May we'll expect much more detail (~5 pages) and for you to have everything up and running, and explain the background science too. This version of the science plan will count towards your score in the Science Mission.  

[2.Q] What is meant by life detection instrumentation or assay?
[2.A]. Life detection in this case means searching for evidence of life i.e. bio-molecules. Instruments or analysis does not need to be expensive or sophisticated but does need to search for biological components (i.e. life.). 

[3.Q] For the onboard sensors, does it need to be completely onboard or can we transmit the output to the command station such as via a video feed for interpretation by a human? Can we determine the status of a test in person by viewing it after the roving time? Can we use the command station computers to analyze images from the rover?
[3.A] Yes, you may use a video feed to monitor a sensor. All experiments should be done onboard the rover, during roving time, so you should use that video feed or another method to relay the information back to the command station. Data and images may be interpreted, during roving time, by people or computers at the base station.

[4.Q] Detailed spectral analysis is an option that increases the budget of the rover to a level that may not be feasible. Otherwise our only option is to purchase an inexpensive digital microscope and try to image bacteria with that. However, to find naturally occurring cyanobacteria with this method would be nearly impossible.
[4.A] There are more options than a spectrometer and digital microscope: 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. A science instrument could be designed and built for around one hundred U.S. dollars up to a few thousand. The science capability of choice on-board the rover is just that: the team’s choice, and does not need to be expensive. 

[5.Q] What resolution of life detection is required, given that creating truly sterile condition on Earth is almost impossible?
[5.A] This is up to the team to determine and justify, based on knowledge of life on Earth, potential on Mars, and capabilities or limitations of life-detection instrument design.

[6.Q] We learned that a team used a specific chemical at URC2023. Will we be allowed to use this same chemical at URC this coming year?
[6.A] The most important thing to note is that we don't approve chemicals, we approve comprehensive chemical safety plans. That doesn't mean simply having the correct concentration of a chemical, but being able to document that you have a plan for transportation/storage/use/disposal of each chemical you're planning to use. In fact, the overwhelming majority of corrections required in teams' chemical safety plans last year dealt not with the concentration of chemicals, but the other safety aspects of tracking a chemical "cradle to grave." (We do look at concentration as well, but that tends not to be where the issues are.)

[7.Q] For the closed container we must now collect and cache a sample in during the Science mission, how “closed” does this container need to be? Does it need to be fully removable from the rover for delivery to the judges? Do we need to drive the cached sample back to the judges or will they collect it from us from wherever we are in the field at the end of the mission? Do the judges need to be able to open the cache themselves or can we open the cache for them?
[7.A] Closed means that the sample will not spill out if the cache container is laid on its side or held upside down (air/water tight is not required). The cache needs to be fully removable from the rover within 5 minutes after the end of the roving time - the sample does not need to be delivered earlier, and the team members may physically remove the cache to hand to judges. The cache must reasonably be able to be opened by the judges.

[8.Q] For the transfer of the soil cache to the judges at the end of the task, we are allowed to present the box to the judges. Is there be a time limit on removing the cache? Should it be very easily detached or are we allowed to have physical reinforcements such as bolts, etc that may take more time to remove and give to the judges. Should the cache be a closed container by the end of roving time? Or can we close it by hand during the handing over to the judges?
[8.A] Yes you are allowed to present or hand the cache box to the judges. The judges will expect the cache to be removed and handed to the judges within 5 minutes after the end of the roving time. Physical reinforcements for the cache are allowed. It would be optimal for the container to be closed by the rover by the completion of the roving time.

[9.Q] Are there clearly marked sites (with a specific number of labeled sites) for acquiring a sample or do we decide where/how many sites we analyze for signs of life?
[9.A] No. The Science Mission site overall will be clearly marked, but the individual sample sites will not be marked since the exact sample to be collected is decided by the team. The team should evaluate at least two sites and acquire samples from only one site. It is each team’s choice which sample is collected.

[10.Q] Is all soil collection dug from the ground or will there be samples on trays too?
[10.A] The soil is in-situ and natural; the soil samples will not be in or on a tray.  The collection method is decided on by the team.

[11.Q] Are the sites all loose soil/regolith or will there be rocks/pebbles to observe for “bio signatures”? How hard is the soil?
[11.A] Teams are expected to investigate soil and sub-surface samples. The terrain is quite variable over short distances and you should expect a range from easy to very difficult to excavate. There is not a caliche surface at the science site and the NRCS soil profile for the MDRS area may help. 

[12.Q] Regarding the panorama image of the site, will this be a wide-angle image camera image that includes the full outcrop?
[12.A] The camera and method of obtaining a panoramic image is up to the team.

[13.Q] We assume that the cardinal directions will be inserted via a computer program.
[13.A] Teams will decide how the cardinal direction is shown in the image. URC Judges provide no direction or support regarding how this is accomplished.

[14.Q] Will we need an accurate scale or is this an estimation of length and height of the outcrop?
[14.A] Yes, teams need to provide an accurate scale bar on images within the presentation. It is each team’s choice how the scale is incorporated into the image.

[15.Q] What does the sense of scale imply for the panorama and the close-up?
[15.A] The method of incorporation of a scale bar for all images within the presentation should be decided on by the team. Teams are also expected to understand the intent and implication of the scale bar.

[16.Q] By stratigraphic profile are you expecting a stratigraphic column image or just a general description of each layer with an estimate of measurements? Will the judges direct the teams on which hillside to determine the stratigraphic profile?
[16.A] We expect a stratigraphic profile showing the stratigraphic column in an image taken by cameras on-board the rover. Teams should research details on a stratigraphic profile. Yes, judges will direct teams as to which hillside to use for the stratigraphic profile. 

[17.Q] Regarding the stratigraphic profile, will this be performed by a combination of photography and then annotations regarding the identification of significant mineralogy and the presence of water, or are we allowed to draw a stratigraphic profile by hand?
[17.A] The team is not allowed to draw the stratigraphic profile by hand. We expect an image taken from cameras on-board the rover and labeled correctly as an example of a sufficient stratigraphic profile. Teams can research the stratigraphy of the MDRS area.

[18.Q] What degree of accuracy is expected for the soil temperature/moisture?
[18.A] The exact instrumentation is up to the team. Many factors go into deciding which instruments to choose. The team is expected to know the accuracy of their instruments and justify their instrument selection.

[19.Q] Do soil temperature/moisture measurements need to be taken of the 5g sample or are they taken in the hole where the sample was dug?
[19.A] The soil temperature and soil moisture should be taken in-situ. Teams should have an understanding of the intent of this data, and how to collect it in a way that supports the overall mission.

[20.Q] What does “distinguish” mean in reference to soil depth (1.b.v.)? Is a line on a ruler enough? Does the sample need to be completely separate?
[20.A] The exact method of establishing depth is up to the team. A line on a ruler is good enough to establish depth. The exact method of distinguishing the topsoil from the soil beneath is up to the team. One method is to separate the sample.

[21.Q] In rule 1.b.x what is meant by contamination in "Method used to ensure sample was collected at least 10 cm below the surface and transferred to the judges without contamination."?
[21.A] Here it means anything collected that is not from at least 10cm below the surface as well as anything from the rover or team members.

[22.Q] Are we required to perform life detection on the 5g sub-surface sample we collect?
[22.A] In rule 1.b.iv teams must have a life detection capability, and in rule 1.b.vii must take moisture and temperatures below 10cm depth, but it is otherwise up to teams what tests to do on what samples and justify they choice.

[23.Q] Rule 1.b.viii.  first says "hazardous chemicals must be approved" and then it is contradicted with "hazardous chemicals are not allowed". Can you clarify?
[23.A] Anything in excess of the US DOT limits is definitely not allowed. Any chemicals under the US DOT limits or not covered by them requires a plan and permission from the science judges. For more details see https://urc.marssociety.org/home/requirements-guidelines/science-plan

Delivery Mission Questions

[1.Q] For estimation of power consumption/torque, how large a drop and how steep a slope can we expect?
[1.A] We suggest you find some videos online of previous competitions. The course will feature a range of natural terrain at increasing levels of difficulty, from flat to steep slopes with loose soil, and even vertical faces. Teams will need to make their own decisions on compromises between capability in this and other tasks, weight, durability, complexity, cost, etc. 

[2.Q] Are more details available about the specific tasks the rovers will be expected to complete?
[2.A] More details about the exact tasks/objectives within the Delivery Mission will be published at a later date (we anticipate publishing the course map before the System Acceptance Review deadline).

[3.Q] In the Delivery Mission, we see that the rover will have the option of hauling multiple objects using a small wagon. Will we be expected or strongly encouraged to use the wagon or could we design our own system for carrying multiple objects at once? What sort of graspable feature will the wagon possess (handle, rope, etc.)?
[3.A] Teams cannot field any systems that are not considered part of the rover. A wagon will be provided; it will not be required to use the wagon, but may offer an advantage depending on the team's operational strategy. Details of the graspable feature are not available at this time.

[4.Q] For the Drone itself, does the 11lb include the dummy weight from the battery, or not? Can the dummy weight be a spare battery, just not connected?
[4.A] The weight of the drone is inclusive of both the drone and the dummy weight. As per the rules, the dummy mass needs to be inert so cannot be a spare battery. You will need to provide an inert dummy weight and the battery which will be weighed by the judges to confirm they are the same weight. 

[5.Q] Can we work on the drone/rover that is behind the start line while the other robot is in the field? (For example, replacing the battery on the drone while the rover is in the field.)
[5.A] Working on the drone or rover, including just swapping batteries, is a full intervention penalty. Teams may only work on the drone behind the control station (if the drone returns under controlled/powered flight, it should land at the starting marker, and the drone spotter may carry it to the work area). The second vehicle (rover or drone) is permitted to continue operating on the course while work on the first vehicle is being completed at the control station (if the rover is being repaired in the field, the drone may not be operating).

[6.Q]  Section 1.d.iii lists "The combined mass of drones and all payloads/dummy mass may not exceed 5 kg." , but the max mass of the Delivery Mission item is the full 5kg. Does "payloads" refer to items that can be picked up in the field?
[6.A] No. The 5 kg limit includes payloads such as cameras, batteries + dummy weights, claws, but does not include anything you may chose to pick up with the drone. Although you may pick up items with the drone, this is not a requirement for 2024.

[7.Q]  From rule 1.d.ix we understand we can start the drone from either the rover or control station and can land anywhere not interfering with the course. Can we take off and land again, using multiple short flights?
[7.A] Yes, you may take off and land as many times as you wish in any safe location.

Equipment Servicing Mission Questions

[1.Q] Are there more details on the equipment that needs servicing?  
[1.A] Specific details are intentionally not given to encourage flexibility in design, but online videos show past tasks. Our basic design criterion is that all tasks should be reasonably performed by an astronaut using a single gloved hand. Tasks will range from easy to ones that push the boundaries of what is easy-for-humans but hard-for-robots!

Autonomous Navigation Mission Questions

[1.Q] Is there a penalty for hitting a post/object? 
[1.A] There is no penalty for hitting a post or object so feel free to drive right up to it. Note that it is possible for a rover to get a wheel caught on the post – this is something that teams will obviously want to avoid.

[2.Q] Is communication from a computer in the base station to the rover permissible as long as there is no human intervention? For example, could the base station computer handle some of the calculations required for autonomy?
[2.A] Yes, this is allowed, but there may be no human assistance while autonomously driving. 

[3.Q] While at a location before starting the next leg, are teams allowed to enter multiple GNSS waypoints (such as based on satellite images) or just the provided GNSS point?
[3.A] While at a gate, teams are allowed to enter as many additional GNSS points as desired and conduct any other programming prior to entering autonomous mode.

[4.Q] Are there any specifications on the LED array to make it visible in bright daylight?
[4.A] No, teams should verify this for themselves. We suggest use of a sunshade to block direct sunlight, but you may use any array, high power LED or other light you chose to purchase or build. Just make sure it is clearly visible for anyone following the rover to know what state the rover is in.

[5.Q] Are we also given whether or not the coordinate has a post or object on it, or do we figure that out as we’re going?
[5.A] For each objective and set of coordinates, teams will be told whether the objective is: coordinates only (no post/object), a post, or an object. The posts will be in the order shown in the image in the rules.

[6.Q] Can we make the indicator light flash for red and blue, as well as green?
[6.A] Yes. 

[7.Q] Rule 1.f.ii  says there will be a starting post with a high accuracy GNSS coordinate. Can we place our base pole there for use with a RTK setup?  
[7.A] No. There is only one start post (as shown in 1.f.iv) and we can't let multiple teams set up their antenna/etc in the same spot. You may go and take GNSS readings at the start post during your setup time. 

[8.Q] The rules mention the drone and gates in the autonomous navigation section. Can we use the drone in the autonomy mission and are there any gates to drive through?  
[8.A] No. Sorry, this was leftover from last year that did not get screened out. Rules have now been updated to remove those references. For 2024 the drone may only be used in the Delivery mission. In the Autonomy mission there are only GNSS coords (with no defining object), single posts, and the 2 objects to be found. For 2024 there are no gates such as the 2 posts to be driven in between as there was in 2023.  

[9.Q] Are there sizes or specific types of objects as obstacles around the second object? Natural or man-made?  
[9.A] Boulders, rock piles, mounds, or other natural or natural looking features of sufficient size we won't expect rovers to be able to easily drive over them.