Students from Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., have won NASA's Lunabotics competition, beating out rivals from 40 other universities around the world.

The eight-member team of fourth-year mechanical engineering students won the competition with a lunabot that collected 237.4 kilograms of synthetic lunar material. The goal of the competition was to design and build a remote-controlled excavator called a lunabot that can dig and deposit as much of the material, called lunar regolith simulant, as possible in 15 minutes.

The University of North Dakota came in second with a lunabot that collected 172.2 kilograms and West Virginia University placed third with a device that collected 106.4 kilograms.

"They won the most prestigious prize you could win for an engineering student," said faculty adviser Markus Timusk, while en route to the awards ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday evening. "I'm really proud of these guys."

Timusk told CBC News the win is "an especially sweet victory" because the students will be the first graduates of the school's mechanical engineering program, which was created four years ago.

The team did have a secret weapon. Its sponsor EVC Ltd., which is a producer of the lunar simulant, provided the material allowing the students to learn how it would behave, Timusk said.

"We're really excited," said student Greg Lakanen, 21, who will return to Sudbury, Ont., early Sunday so he can attend his convocation on Thursday. "We've been working on this since September."

He said his next move will be to attend graduate school in the fall and that the other team members have already secured jobs after graduation.

The team won a $5,000 cash prize as well as VIP passes to watch the final launch of the space shuttle Atlantis in July.

This year was the first time the competition was open to international teams. McGill University was the only other Canadian team. Other teams came from the United States, Chile, Bangladesh and India.


Former NASA astronaut Jon McBride test drives Laurentian University's lunabot at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday. (Markus Timusk/Laurentian University)