Manufacturing on Mars

Apprentices in engineering and manufacturing technologies from all years are invited to work in teams from their institution and build models to demonstrate their innovative ideas for manufacturing on Mars.

Apprentices can provide a major skill base required to rebuild UK manufacturing. Apprenticeships are about designing, making and maintaining products (manufacturing) and making things work (engineering). This competition is open to apprentices from all UK manufacturing sectors, including: aerospace, automotive, defence, energy, oil and gas, food, furniture, glass and process industry. The competition will allow the teams to stretch their imagination and further develop their team working skills.

Manufacturing on Mars is becoming more topical and with NASA and individual industrialists suggesting that exploration and colonisation of Mars is feasible in the next two decades, consideration as to how manufacturing could be achieved is a key aspect.

Theme for 2018: Production of a multi-purpose vehicle/lab/workshop/habitat for exploration on Mars.

Event Programme 22 May:

08:00 - 09:00 Arrival, Registration and set-up. Pre judging meeting.
09:00 -12:00 Competition (judging - closed to public)
12:00 - 13:00 Public viewing of the exhibits
13:00 - 13:45 Lunch
13:45 - 14:00 Talk from judges and close of the competition
14:15 - 16:45 Tours of manufacturing facilities (optional)


Mars is smaller than the Earth – approximately 11% of Earth's mass. It is 50% farther from the Sun than the Earth. Mars’ climate is similar to Earth in a few aspects. Both have polar ice caps and experience weather patterns that vary with seasonal changes. However Mars' atmosphere is not able to sustain human life – being much thinner and composed mainly of carbon dioxide; requiring colonists to wear a protection and life supporting suit whilst not inside a habitation unit. Weather patterns can more extreme than on Earth and solar radiation is not shielded as effectively as on Earth.

For the competition, it is assumed that the teams are dealing with a task at a point several decades in the future. After several early Mars manned landings, there are plans for more intensive investigation of Mars as a potential location for development as a human colony. There is a small transient community making short stays on Mars and regular shuttle rockets re-supplying Mars from earth. A plan to undertake exploration of areas across the planet’s surface as potential locations for building permanent colonies is being proposed. To that end, a number of exploratory trips will be required over a broad area of the surface. There is a requirement to design and develop and deliver a series of mobile exploration systems. These units would allow explorers to travel to specific locations on the planet’s surface to conduct experiments and evaluation tests to determine suitable sites for permanent human colonies.

The unit would be autonomous and provide living accommodation, life support and experimental and exploratory equipment, along with any gathered samples – a Mars Exploration and Experimentation Vehicle (MEEV). The MEEV would allow a team of eight people to travel across the surface of the planet to different locations to carry out experiments and evaluations on the surface, subsurface, the atmosphere and radiation levels. The MEEV should have sufficient space to provide 10 square metres of laboratory area. The content of the laboratory will be decided once the MEEV is available – but this is likely to be relatively light laboratory equipment. Access and egress to the laboratory should allow people and materials to be taken in and removed safely between the laboratory and the planet’s surface. Power, light, air, water and vacuum should be provided to the laboratory area. A drilling attachment is required that can drill for core samples to a depth of 10 metres. The drill can be part of the MEEV or carried as a separate piece of equipment. The drill will extract samples that require safe storage for return to a location that can provide more detailed analysis. Storage area envisaged for the samples is two cubic metres. Life support systems for the eight crew should be sufficient to provide appropriate conditions for the duration of each exploratory visit. The duration of an exploration trip would be a maximum of 45 Martian days (sols). Sufficient life-support systems, power, air, food, water and sanitation provision should be provided in the proposed MEEV to facilitate this level of durability. The MEEV should have sufficient workshop/maintenance capability to undertake basic repairs to ensure that it can remain mobile in the area of exploration and then return to a base location.

There is no limit to the size or format of the proposed MEEV, but there must be the ability to operate autonomously for a maximum of 45 sols whist sustaining eight crew members. Travelling speed of the MEEV should be greater than 12 kilometres per hour. The MEEV would be expected to climb an incline to a maximum of 45 degrees and to traverse a slope with a maximum of 30 degrees incline.

The MEEV would be specified as a series of component parts (or sub-assemblies / modules) that could be transported to Mars in a knocked-down format, and then assembled and commissioned on the surface of Mars. All components would be transported in one trip to allow assembly a single MEEV.

The manufacturing / assembly process should allow the build of the MEEV in one location, using the delivered components. The facilities and equipment required for this manufacturing /a assembly process should be clearly specified.

The Task

Your task is to design a suitable product that accommodates the above requirements.  This solution can be any type and format of your choice.  Consideration needs to be given to initial manufacturing / assembly and subsequent maintenance of the proposed solution.

The MEEV must allow explorers to travel between locations and operate the exploration equipment at each location.  Food, water, air, waste, power, storage and communications must be considered. A maintenance regime to ensure the MEEV remains serviceable over a projected life-span of three Martian years is required.

Assume the required materials / components for manufacturing/assembly of the MEEV are delivered in a shuttle rocket as a single load.  The materials / components will be delivered as per the proposed design specification.

Assume a manufacturing assembly location on Mars that has all required facilities, processing and testing equipment to allow assembly of the proposed MEEV.  There is no space restriction on the area to be used for the manufacturing / assembly process.  However, the space required, labour and skills needed, facilities and equipment required should be clearly outlined.

Assume skills are available amongst the personnel on Mars to carry out your specified manufacturing / assembly operations.

Assume that there are no size restrictions to the proposed MEEV other than imposed by the planet’s environment.

Assume that a supplier on Earth is available to produce the specified component of the MEEV.  There is no need to describe how the component is manufactured.  Assume the supplier can deliver the specified component to the launch site for transportation to Mars.

Assume that appropriate packing/protection of the components will be undertaken to ensure that all components are delivered to a designated single site on Mars for manufacture / assembly of the complete MEEV.

Assume that the transportation rocket from earth to Mars is sufficient to safely transport the proposed MEEV.

A timescale for the requisition, supply, assembly and test of the proposed MEEV is required as part of the design component of the entry.

Where there any assumptions made about an aspect that is not defined in this document, this should be explicitly stated in the portfolio and drawn to the attention of the judges during the presentation.

Project Deliverables

• A design for a suitable exploration MEEV and explanation of what designs were considered, and why the proposed design was chosen.
• A presentation that outlines how the project was managed and the solution developed. PowerPoint can be used if required.
• A demonstration model of the proposed exploration MEEV including any modules and peripheral components. The components required to assemble the completed MEEV should be made explicit.
• A detailed portfolio of the design, development, components and manufacturing processes and facilities to ensure that the proposed MEEV meets the specified requirements. The portfolio should also include a maintenance regime to ensure the MEEV is maintained in a safe and operable condition. This should include both the maintenance actions and proposed facilities required to effect these actions. It should also consider repair/recovery of damaged components of the proposed MEEV.

The judges will be looking for creativity and original thought in the entry, rather than a ‘dry’ design exercise. Although the project objective is deliberately not defined in detail, in order to allow a high level of creativity in proposing solutions; the entry must meet the criteria noted for the proposed solution. Entrants should note that limitations inherent in the project scenario and in the operating environment are not all explicitly stated. Consequently, entrants should research these to ensure that they have been adequately considered. Any assumptions made about the project should be explicitly stated in the portfolio entry.

For Training Managers

The task set for the apprentice teams will require team working and creative yet robust thinking across the full manufacturing spectrum. From concept development and selection, through design and development of a feasible model, through pre-production planning and testing, to design and development of an appropriate manufacturing facility, the project will challenge apprentices to work as a cohesive team to apply innovation and a robust and rigorous development process that provides a solution to the problem. This project goes beyond traditional skills assessment and challenges the apprentices to think, as a team, about the broad issues associated with developing and operating a manufacturing facility.

National Manufacturing Debate

The apprentice team exhibitors will be required to display their models at the 2018 National Manufacturing Debate on 23rd May 2018 at Cranfield University. This display will form a focal point of the National Manufacturing Debate exhibition.

Judging Criteria

Judges will study and assess the portfolio submitted before the final judging day. On the judging day, they would expect a 20 minute oral presentation/explanation plus demonstration of the idea plus 20 minute questions and answers. PowerPoint can be used if desired by the apprentice team. The 20 minute time limits will be strictly enforced.

Marks will be awarded based on the following criteria:-

  • Originality and clarity of the idea (10%)
  • Alignment of design with operating environment and requirements (10%)
  • Quality of design and development (10%)
  • Quality of proposed manufacturing and conformance assurance (10%)
  • Quality of the demonstrator model (40%)
  • Quality of the proposed maintenance regime (10%)
  • Presentation to the judging panel (10%)


Information to come.

Judges Timetable (Tuesday 22nd May 2018)

  • 08.00:                         Assembly and coffee
  • 08.30-09.00:                Pre-judging meeting
  • 09.00-12.00:                Judging of the entrants
  • 12.00-13.00:                Lunch for participants and judges
  • 13:00-13:45                 Judging of the entrants
  • 13.45-14.00:                Judges provide feedback to each team
  • 23rd May 2018             Winners announced at National Manufacturing Debate

Awards Ceremony

The judging panel and guests will join all the participants to provide overall feedback on the competition. Three awards will be presented and the winners will be announced during the National Manufacturing Debate on the 23 May. All teams are asked to attend the National Manufacturing Debate and display their projects as part of the event exhibition.

Each award will have a monetary prize and a certificate for each team member.

Application Process

Entry is made online through

By 12:00 on Monday 15th January 2018, submit an outline proposal for consideration. The outline should be no more than 4 pages of A4 and should describe how you propose designing a MEEV and manufacturing facility to meet the requirements noted above, the likely apprentice team that will be working on the project and a description of the key stages you envisage to achieve this. This outline should include company name and contact person, email and telephone number.
Submission should be to

These proposals will be evaluated and successful applications will be invited to submit the full portfolio and model. Teams will be advised of the outcome of the initial evaluation by 22nd January 2018.

By 20th  April 2018, submit the detailed portfolio describing how the design process was carried out, the detail of the proposed MEEV design, the proposed manufacturing and support facilities to meet the requirements noted above.
Submission should be to

By 4th  May 2018, submit a list of apprentice team members and managers, along with contact email addresses,  who will be part of the entry team attending Cranfield University.
Submission should be to

On the morning of 22nd  May 2018, deliver to The Vincent Building at Cranfield University:-

  • a model that demonstrates how the project requirements were achieved. There will be 240v mains power available for the model operation if required.
  • a copy of the portfolio that demonstrates the design, development and validation of the proposed MEEV; and the design and development of the proposed manufacturing and support capability.

The entry should be made available for judging from 09:00 on the 22nd  May 2018.

Important Dates

15th January 2018

Outline proposal submission closes.

22nd January 2018

Successful applicants invited to make a full submission of project portfolio and demonstrator model.

20th  April 2018

Closing date for submission of project portfolio.

4th May 2018

Names of apprentice team members and managers attending the competition on 24th May 2016 submitted to Cranfield University

22nd  May 2018

Deliver demonstration model to Cranfield University.

Set-up to be complete by 09:00.

22nd  May 2018

Judging of entrants from 09:00

23rd  May 2018

Winners announced – Awards presented

23rd  May 2018

First, Second and Third prize-winners exhibit their models at the 2018 National Manufacturing Debate.

Competition Rules

Conditions of entry

  1. A team of apprentices of any year and a manager or supervisor from the same institution are able to apply. The work has to be an original contribution from the apprentices. Only institutions within the UK are eligible for the competition. One institution can have more than one team.
  2. The maximum number of apprentices per team is 8.
  3. The entry is free of charge.
  4. Past competitors may enter the National Apprenticeship Competition (NAC) again provided that they meet the competition specific entry criteria.
  5. Competitors should have the support of their school, college, university, training provider or employer to participate in the NAC.
  6. By entering the NAC, competitors and their representatives are declaring that they will abide by the competition rules.
  7. Competitors and their sponsoring organisations are responsible for covering all costs including the model building and any travel expenses incurred in participating in NAC at Cranfield University. Please note Cranfield University cannot accept any liability related to the NAC participation.
  8. Each Apprentice team is responsible for carrying out a suitable risk assessment for the demonstration model.
  9. Competitors are required to respect visitor Health and Safety rules at Cranfield University. They will receive a health and safety induction briefing on the day of the competition.

10.  Competitors must wear appropriate clothing and safety equipment commensurate with operation of the demonstration model.

11.  All electrical equipment brought by Competitors or Representatives should be PAT tested, and is to be used at the competitors’ own risk. Adhering to the relevant health and safety regulations is the responsibility of each competitor. Failure to do so may result in disqualification from the competition, and being asked to leave the competition venue.

12.  Competitors who arrive late for the competition will not automatically receive additional time. However, this may be granted in exceptional circumstances by the judges on the day. Competitors may be allowed a familiarisation period before the start of the competition. Competitors who need to repair their own tools or equipment during the competition will not be given additional time unless agreed by the judges.

13.  The judges’ decision is final.

14.  If any competitor is unhappy on any aspect of the competition, he or she can either complain individually or as a group to the Head of Manufacturing, Cranfield University. The complaint will be investigated and the outcome will be used to improve NAC in the future years.

15.  Prize winners agree to participate in any video, photography and interviews requested on the day of the competition. This material will be used for development of promotional material for future NAC competitions.

16.  Cranfield University will reserve the right to market the three prize winner teams and their work for NAC promotion purposes, including for the NAC website and online marketing. Cranfield will also support the team sponsors in the publicity.

Contact Details

For any further questions, please contact:
Dr Patrick McLaughlin
Building 50
Cranfield University
MK43 0AL
Tel: +44 (0)1234 750111 extension 5484