by
Jasmine Leonas

Mines student entrepreneurs named finalists in NASA challenge

Space resources grad students team up for top honors in NASA Entrepreneurs Challenge 2023
Front Range team

A team that includes two Colorado School of Mines grad students has been named a finalist in NASA’s Entrepreneurs Challenge 2023.

Front Range Team, which includes Mines students Kenneth Liang and Chris Tolton, was one of eight groups named winners in the second and final round of the challenge.

The Entrepreneurs Challenge sought solutions in two areas:

  • Lunar payloads that may attract non-governmental funding for delivery to the surface of the Moon by a commercial provider.
  • A means to obtain high-quality climate science data from small, hosted instruments and/or new business models for using existing climate data to address climate and environmental problems.

Front Range submitted the Lunar Anti-Dust Microgrid Payload for the competition. The service center on the Moon would allow lunar rovers to recharge batteries and get cleaned up before continuing on with their work.

“On Earth, we don’t throw away a car as soon as it runs out of gas, or the oil filter gets clogged. We get gas and an oil change,” Liang said. “Similarly, on the Moon, rovers and mining rigs will need to be recharged and maintained over the years. Our technology provides electricity and dust cleaning, keeping the future lunar economy running.”

Liang and Tolton are no strangers to success in NASA challenges. They’re the founders of Orbital Mining Corporation, a startup that was also a Round 2 winner in NASA’s Watts on the Moon challenge. For the Entrepreneurs competition, they teamed up with Space Dust Research and Technologies, a University of Colorado Boulder startup, to form Front Range Team. Orbital Mining focuses on lunar power grid solutions, so Liang and Tolton oversaw that aspect of the Entrepreneurs Challenge submission, as well as overall payload integration.

As Round 2 winners, Front Range received $85,000 to bring their idea into existence. That’s in addition to the $16,000 they won as a Round 1 winner, for a total prize of $101,000.

A key goal of the Entrepreneurs Challenge was to increase the quality of technology that advances NASA’s lunar exploration and climate science goals, with the agency aiming to increase their partnerships with entrepreneurs in the space tech community. Judges in the competition included both NASA personnel and external venture experts.

“We’re excited to play a part in this upcoming market, and we’re thrilled a panel of NASA experts and venture capitalists chose to fund us while we advance our technology,” Liang said.

Orbital Mining was formed after Liang and Tolton met through Innov8x, an entrepreneurship class that is part of Mines’ new entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem. In addition to their work with Orbital Mining, both are pursuing master’s degrees in Space Resources.

Jasmine Leonas headshot

Jasmine Leonas

Public Information Specialist
About Mines
Colorado School of Mines is a public research university focused on science and engineering, where students and faculty together address the great challenges society faces today - particularly those related to the Earth, energy and the environment.