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Aussie space mining rover competition

Four universities, four space rovers, four tasks, one winner Metal Tech News – March 31, 2021

On Friday March 26, challengers from four Australian universities went head-to-head in a fierce competition to build and operate advanced lunar rovers for simulated space exploration and mining.

The weekend event, hosted by Australia's University of Adelaide, a school renowned for its more than 140 years of innovation and education, and with a strong focus on mining technologies, tasked students from around the country to compete in the inaugural Australian Rover Challenge (ARC).

Participants put their lunar rovers, which they designed and built themselves, to the test in a series of missions performed on a recreation of the surface of the Moon.

"For the first time in Australia, the global challenge to design and build a rover to compete in a simulated lunar mission is coming to North Terrace campus," said John Culton, associate professor and director of the Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources. "The Australian Rover Challenge will deliver a highly rewarding and globally unique challenge to students. It is all about developing the skillsets that are becoming increasingly needed as the new era of long-duration human operations in deep space unfolds."

The University's Maths Lawns was transformed into a lunar landscape, with sandy loam, rocks, craters, a life-sized space lander, satellites, and other space props. Four different challenges were then conducted that tested the capabilities of the rovers, which had to be built according to competition rules: no bigger than one and half meters so they could fit on the three-meter lander.

Saturday's challenge comprised of a post-landing task and a lunar resources task, while Sunday's challenges were composed of a lunar construction task and the final autonomous task.

The challenges were uniquely created to mimic real missions that NASA could perhaps undertake in its next mission to the Moon in 2024.

"Teams will need to remotely drive their rovers off the lander then complete a task list to work towards establishing a remote mining operation," said Culton. "They will carry out a systems check on the lander, initiate a start-up protocol and relay information about any damage to the judges and then navigate to a supply cache while traversing obstacles and drops."

Joining Adelaide's own team, three other groups from the University of New South Wales, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and Monash University compared their rovers for the grand prize, a trophy made from the discarded pieces of rover, built by all the teams.

The real prizes, however, were clout and bragging rights.

Adelaide's rover was named 'Lil' Gaz', New South Wales' rover was named Wallaby, RMIT's was Eve and Monash's was Wombat, altogether over 60 different students participated in the event.

Altogether, the ARC hopes to become a premier platform to showcase Australian student talent and capability in space activities, and to create downstream opportunities for outreach and student engagement to inspire other young people to take up STEM educational pathways.

The Australian Rover Challenge is a partnership between the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Space Industry Centre, and is supported by the Australian Space Agency and the SmartSAT CRC, the Space Industry Association of Australia and the Australian Robotics and Automation Association. University teams from around Australia will be invited back to compete in the University Rover Challenge, a global competition series staged in America, Canada, Europe, and India.


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