NASA's HuLC Finalists: Innovative Solutions for Lunar Dust Management

NASA’s Human Lander Challenge: Addressing the Dusty Aspect of Lunar Landings

NASA has selected 12 finalist teams to compete in the next round of the Human Lander Challenge (HuLC) competition. The challenge aims to find innovative solutions to manage the lunar dust generated during spacecraft landings on the Moon’s surface. With NASA’s Artemis campaign aiming to establish a long-term human presence on and around the Moon, addressing the issue of lunar dust is crucial to ensure the safety and integrity of assets, such as habitats and scientific experiments.

The Challenge of Plume Surface Interaction

When rockets engines are used to land on unprepared surfaces like the Moon, they create a cloud of dust known as plume surface interaction. The dust cloud can be damaging to assets on the Moon’s surface. The university-level teams selected for the HuLC competition will spend the next several months developing concepts and solutions to manage or prevent this plume surface interaction.

Diverse Perspectives and Innovative Designs

Each of the 12 finalist teams brings a unique perspective and has proposed system-level designs to address the challenge of lunar dust management. These designs showcase the brilliance and dedication of the Artemis Generation, inspiring advancements in space exploration. The teams will present their final designs at the 2024 HuLC Forum in Huntsville, Alabama, where they will compete for a share of the ,000 prize purse.

Finalist Teams and Advisors

The following are the 12 finalist teams and their advisors:

  1. Colorado School of Mines – “Prudent Landers – FAST” – Advisor: Mark Florida, Dr. Angel Abbud-Madrid, David Purcell
  2. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – “Plume Additive for Reducing Surface Ejecta and Cratering (PARSEC)” – Advisor: Dr. Siwei Fan
  3. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – “Ceramic Research Advancement Technology at Embry-Riddle (C.R.A.T.E.R.)” – Advisor: Seetha Raghavan
  4. Ohio Northern University – “HuLC Smash” – Advisor: Dr. Louis DiBerardino
  5. Texas A&M University – “Maroon Moon: Preliminary Surface Stabilization to Mitigate Lunar Plume Surface Interaction” – Advisor: John F. Connolly, Dr. Jean-Louis Briaud
  6. Texas A&M University – “Synthetic Orbital Landing Area for Crater Elimination (SOLACE)” – Advisor: Dr. Helen Reed
  7. Texas State University – “Numerical Simulation and Physical Validation of Regolith Ejecta During Plume Surface Interaction” – Advisor: Dr. Bin Xiao
  8. The College of New Jersey – “TCNJ Adaptable Regolith Retention Program (TARRP)” – Advisor: Mohammed Alabsi
  9. University of California San Diego – “Microwave Lunar Sintering of Nanophase Iron Enriched Lunar Regolith for the Creation of a Lunar Landing Pad” – Advisor: Dr. Amy Eguchi, Dr. Zahra Sadeghizadeh, Dr. Ross Turner
  10. University of Colorado Boulder (Graduate Team) – “Lunar Surface Assessment Tool (LSAT): A Simulation of Lunar Dust Dynamics for Risk Analysis” – Advisor: James Nabity
  11. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign – “HINDER: Holistic Integration of Navigational Dynamics for Erosion Reduction” – Advisor: Laura Villafane Roca
  12. University of Michigan – “ARC-LIGHT: Algorithm for Robust Characterization of Lunar surface Imaging for Ground Hazards and Trajectory” – Advisor: Mirko Gamba, Chris Ruf

Rigorous Selection Process

The finalist selection process involved a thorough evaluation of each team’s proposal package, which included a 5-7-page concept proposal and a two-minute summary video. NASA’s Human Landing System Program’s judging panel assessed factors such as feasibility, innovation, and adherence to safety standards. Each team will receive a ,000 stipend award to further develop their proposed concepts and participate fully in the 2024 HuLC Forum.

Looking Towards a Sustainable Lunar Presence

The Human Lander Challenge is sponsored by NASA’s Human Landing System Program and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace. Through the Artemis program, NASA plans to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon, with the goal of further exploring the lunar surface and preparing for manned missions to Mars. By addressing challenges like lunar dust management, NASA is paving the way for safer and more successful missions in the future.

Predictions and Recommendations for the Industry

The development of innovative solutions to manage lunar dust and plume surface interaction is an essential aspect of establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon. As the HuLC competition progresses and the finalists present their designs, it is expected that novel approaches and technologies will emerge.

One potential trend is a focus on surface stabilization techniques to mitigate plume surface interaction. Teams like “Maroon Moon” and “Synthetic Orbital Landing Area for Crater Elimination (SOLACE)” are already exploring the use of preliminary surface stabilization methods to ensure safe and smooth landings. These techniques, if successful, could significantly reduce the generation and dispersal of lunar dust, protecting assets and enabling more efficient operations.

Another trend could be advancements in regolith retention technology. Teams like “TCNJ Adaptable Regolith Retention Program (TARRP)” and “Numerical Simulation and Physical Validation of Regolith Ejecta During Plume Surface Interaction” are focusing on retaining regolith, the loose surface material on the Moon, during the landing process. By preventing the ejection of regolith, these technologies could minimize the creation of dust clouds and preserve the integrity of surface assets.

Recommendations for the industry include continued investment in research and development of lunar dust management technologies. Government agencies, private companies, and academic institutions can collaborate and share knowledge to find the most effective solutions. Additionally, NASA should provide support and funding opportunities for further exploration of the concepts proposed by the HuLC competition finalists.


The HuLC competition is an exciting opportunity for universities and their students to contribute to NASA’s Artemis campaign and pave the way for sustainable lunar missions. The selected finalist teams have the potential to develop groundbreaking solutions to manage lunar dust, ensuring the safety and success of future manned missions. Through collaboration, innovation, and continued investment, the industry can overcome the challenges posed by lunar dust and enable humanity’s exploration of the Moon and beyond.


NASA selects 12 teams to compete in Human Lander Challenge addressing lunar surface dust management. (2023, March 30). NASA. Retrieved from