Winning the rovers of the lunar polar race

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28/03/2022
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The poles of the Moon have appeared as tempting targets to explore in the future, as can awa water and other substances. So ESA and the European Space Resources Innovation Center, ESRIC, have been trying to get European and Canadian engineering companies to develop vehicles that can explore resources in these secret places – and then try to their designs in a real lunar analogue. Five winning teams were selected from this tournament, each receiving € 75,000 contracts to move their rovers forward to the next level of the competition.

Rover protection

Winning teams:

ESRIC Strategic Advisor and project manager Bob Lamboray said: “ESRIC looks forward to welcoming these five winners from this series to Luxembourg where they will compete in the circuit of the month. we are building for the second round this season. Through the ESRIC award, we will support the final winner to rethink their design and hope to reach the next month.

Lunar south pole

The impetus for the first field test of the ESA-ESRIC Space Resources Challenge was the fact that the lunar poles were different from the flat plains near the equator as envisioned by the 1960s-70s Apollo project. The side that is illuminated by the Sun cannot ascend into the sky, these polar particles are not trapped in the pit at the hot temperature that is visible to the rest of the moon. Their shadows also hide in the icy ice and other things, which are of great value to future residents.

This challenge looks at an opportunity for robotic researchers to explore resources that can be used as a first stage of ‘in -situ resource utilization’ (ISRU) – using those resources to improve self -confidence and the perpetuation of the Moon’s existence.

Rover is exploring the analog lunar environment

“Competitors need to navigate and map the entire test environment to find resources that can be used – be the first to look at their location, find the best and safest ways to enter. to them, and then gather information about the characteristics and combinations of the .stones they find, “explained Massimo Sabbatini, who holds the first stage of the competition for ESA. .

“Different teams have taken different routes related to locomotion – we’re wheeled, tracked and even pedestrian – as well as visual and multi -spectral sensors, and in some cases more than single rovers.The five teams of 12 will have to move on to the next level in a development course to improve their technical skills before the second stage competition, hosted by ESRIC at Luxembourg this fall.

Preparing the rover for testing

Working in a former aircraft hangar, the contestants deployed 200 tons of lava in an area similar to seven tennis courts, dedicated in a lunar -like manner, with a large pit. of interest. Then they scattered the stones, with a hundred modeled stones larger than a meter on the side, whose positions were precisely marked.

These measurements formed the basis of a map provided by ESA to rover companies. The idea is to give them the same level of local knowledge that they would get from satellite imagery in a ‘real’ mission, while always leaving little surprises. After it was over, the moonscape was hidden from the rover crews behind black screens, so they could only see through the cameras on their rover. Thirteen teams tried one at a time.

A look at the Rover

“In about two and a half hours, each rover has to find their way on the side of the moon to the intended second, and then estimate the resources,” the rover said. team manager Franziska Zaunig, who is looking at the second round of the competition for ESA. “This is a difficult goal in the lunar universe that doesn’t know within the allotted time.”

Massimo added: “Not everyone was able to do the second: some teams found that their rovers didn’t have enough lights, some had desk problems. Some had problems with the artificial signal delay we had. insert, comparing the real experience of teleoperating to the Moon.But it is fair to say that everyone has learned a lot – including us.

Walking and driving rovers

“All the teams told us they knew it was a very good experience, with those that didn’t go forward,” Franziska said.

“Everyone has had a high -impact test of their technology, helping to identify the features that need improvement.”

This first phase of the Space Resources Challenge was organized with the support of ESA’s Automation and Robotics section, which is developing advanced automation and robotic systems for space exploration. The unit provides support for two preparatory trials at ESTEC, the technical slowness and the readiness needed to evaluate the performance of the 12 participating companies.

Rovers compete in the Lunar Space Resources Challenge

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