Montana State University's robot earned honors in the annual NASA Lunabotics Mining Competition last month in Florida.

It's the second time in three years for a Montana team to earn honors in the national event, competing against 60 teams this year.

Montana ALE (Autonomous Lunar Excavator) was developed to collect simulated moon dirt in an arena sprinkled with boulders and craters. MSU placed 8th in that competition May 21-26, where only 15 of the 60 teams dug the minimum amount of dirt to qualify.

The team was in 3rd place after the first round, but a risky redesign to try to make the robot lighter caused minor problems that stopped it from gathering the minimum amount of dirt in the second round. However, that decision to try to improve ALE's performance "on the fly" drew praise from judges and supporters at the Bozeman university.

The MSU group won the Systems Engineering Paper category. One MSU student will present a paper at the American Institute of Aeronatuics and Astronautics conference. That process is important for NASA and other organizations that build complex systems.

The team also took 2nd Place for Outreach because it involved elementary students in working with a smaller version of ALE.

Competing at Kennedy Space Center were: Logan Warberg, Alison Figueria, Seth Berardinelli, Kevin Love, Daniel Benson, Lars Osborne, Garth Grubb and Bethany Higgins. Faculty adviser Brock LaMeres accompanied the team to Florida.

The team was funded by NASA, the Montana Space Grant Consortium and the College of Engineering.