Two groups are battling it out to build Australia’s first Roo-ver

In a big day for lunar rovers, the Australian Space Agency has announced both the name of the first Aussie rover, and released details on how it will be built.

It will be named Roo-ver, which was decided by popular vote from four final contenders.

Once the version is designed, Roo-ver will need to be about 20 kilograms, be able to run for about a fortnight scooping up moon dirt to deliver to a NASA run facility to extract oxygen.

Two Australian consortiums made up of universities around the country were nominated to build the initial proof of concept, with one becoming the lunar rover that will be sent to the Moon – potentially as early as 2026.

“There are two teams that are essentially vying for the successive gateways of funding,” Professor Martin Leary, one of the RMIT researchers in the ELOgroup, told Cosmos. This team includes RMIT, The University of Adelaide, the Australian National University  and companies like BHP and Saber Astronautics.

“It’s an initial proof of concept. Then it moves to the first proof of concept, and then all the way to the launched autonomous vehicle,” Leary told Cosmos.

ELO2  have just announced their rover prototype, with precision machined and 3D printed metal on display.

“It’s not just a ‘looks nice model.’ It’s a first stage demonstration of the technology,” said Leary – who was involved in the 3D printing.  

“You can see 3D printed optimised structures for the wheels, using printed titanium to get that really complicated weight optimised structure that can be robust for moving through that regolith – moon soil.”

The second group is AROSE, including Curtin University, QUT, UNSW and companies like Nova Systems. They’ve been a bit quieter with their project this time round, but have spoken before about the challenges of building a brand new rover – which at the time was nicknamed ‘Trailblazer’.

“Everything you’re building for Trailblazer is almost entirely new because you have to make these technologies Space-grade,” AROSE Director of Space Programs Dr Newton Campbell said earlier this year.

“The rover’s onboard sensors will need to detect those variational shifts in temperature, and potentially modify the robot as the temperatures are swinging.”

Both teams will need to submit their designs to the Australian Space Agency by mid-2024.

“This mission is as much about the journey as the destination. Our nation is gaining significant expertise and new technical skills from developing this rover for the harsh environment of space – that we can bring back to improve industries here on Earth,” said Australian Space Agency head Enrico Palermo.

“Investing in missions like this lifts our whole nation – it makes our economy stronger and industries more advanced, it lifts our standing on the global stage, it keeps our brightest talent here. You cannot underestimate the value of what’s happening before we even get to the Moon.

“The Australian Government is working to strengthen Australia’s robotics capability, and this mission is one of the most advanced robotics projects happening in our country right now.”

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