Until 1950s, the Moon was just a natural satellite of the Earth and a mission to the Moon was only a thing of fiction. Less than a decade later, the first manned spacecraft landed on the Moon. Since then, the Moon has been a popular target for scientists and immense interest has been shown by the public. Yet, there is still much to explore on our nearest planetary neighbour.
The main goal of the Lunar Zebro, is to bring the first student-built rover to the Moon and to demonstrate a new kind of locomotion which is thought to be better at traversing on rough lunar terrain than traditional wheels used in previous missions. The rover travels on the lunar surface using 6 C-shaped legs while autonomously detecting obstacles and navigating through the terrain by communicating with the ground station directly. If these tasks are performed successfully, the rover’s adaptability and capability on a rough terrain in space environment can be further improved for other planetary destinations.
Apart from sending the smallest and lightest rover to the Moon, the uniqueness of the Lunar Zebro mission also comes from the fact that students of TU Delft play an important role in the development and operation of the rover and mission respectively.
Towards its launch in 2022, there is still much to be prepared. Currently, the student team is working on designing and manufacturing a qualification model of the rover. This model is being made as an intermediate phase to flight model and engineering model, which will be used to qualify various new components and measure their performance under space conditions. If everything goes according to plan, future missions will consist of multiple Lunar Zebro rovers, which exhibits the possibility of implementing swarming technology for exploration and commercial purposes. The technology would not only be useful in space, but also right here on Earth in scenarios like search for trapped people after a natural disaster or deploy sensors in remote locations to collect data for more accurate predictions and ground truth.
In recent months, the project has been to various events and conferences around the world to showcase its progress and have an open debate about its objectives and long-term goals. International Aeronautics Congress (IAC), in Washington DC was the most recent event and biggest conference the project has visited. Lunar Zebro got an incredible amount of positive response from experts in the space sector and technical advice from companies like Lockheed Martin, Ispace inc. and TNO. There was also the rare opportunity to explain the project to the Dutch astronaut, André Kuipers and to have his take on this home-grown project. On behalf of Lunar Zebro and its parent roadmap (OLFAR) a few technical papers were also presented at the IAC including a paper on the thermal analysis of the rover by Jesús Muñoz and Maneesh Verma. Jesús was nominated as a finalist for the Luigi G. Napolitano award (grant given to young space professionals who have contributed the most to the space industry and lead authors of a IAC 2019 scientific paper).
TU Delft Space Institute (DSI) has been part of Lunar Zebro since the beginning of the project. DSI along with the TU Delft Robotics Institute are the founding partners and play a major role in the project’s day to day activities and its long term plan to send a swarm of rovers in the near future. One of the most important contribution of DSI to the project has been the availability of experienced staff members as part of the team. Critical sub-systems like communications and a power distribution unit have been developed by or under direct supervision of these experts. DSI also provides the project with the ability to test few of our sub-systems on a small scale for verification of our thermal simulations and access to its clean room for assembly. Furthermore, DSI contributes one of the payloads for the mission, a sensor, which will measure the radiation levels on the lunar surface at different locations around the landing site. Lunar Zebro and DSI’s latest Delfi-PQ mission constantly share information among its engineers with a aim to assure that both projects accomplish their missions smoothly as they have quite a lot of technical and operational aspects in common between them.
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