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Australia’s ELO2 consortium unveils first Moon rover proposal

The Brisbane-based ELO2 consortium has unveiled a prototype of what could become Australia’s first lunar rover. The consortium is working on the project under Stage 1 of the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars Trailblazer program which aims to land the rover on the Moon as part of a future NASA Artemis mission later this decade.

The other contender for this contract is the Perth-based AROSE consortium. Each consortium has received a grant from the Agency worth $4 million to develop their designs. A final choice should be made in 2024 with the successful contender scheduled to go into orbit in about 2026.

The first glimpse of ELO2’s rover prototype shows the technology and design elements built into this specialised vehicle. If selected for the mission on the Moon’s surface it will be tasked with transporting lunar regolith (Moon soil) to a NASA-run facility for the extraction of oxygen. The initial prototype focuses on testing chassis and suspension subsystems and features an early design of a collection device and special wheels that will enable the rover to cross the Moon’s challenging terrain.

The rover prototype’s unveiling marks an essential step in this process, paving the way for iterative enhancements and expanded functionalities throughout the rest of Stage 1.

This prototype and the following iterations are a practice in de-risking critical technologies, validating requirements, and ensuring their seamless integration. These are crucial for the success of the mission; prototyping such as this is an important step in testing designs for continuous improvement, an essential feature of the space industry.

The rover would autonomously navigate the lunar environment, locate and collect regolith, and is an essential element to enable NASA’s In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) facility to operate. There, oxygen will be extracted from the regolith, which can be used for Artemis astronauts to breathe and for spacecraft fuel – essential elements for a sustained human presence on the Moon.

“ELO2 is designing and developing world-leading technology, capitalising on Australia’s strengths, and leveraging Trailblazer funding to develop dual-use critical technologies able to support technology development for AUKUS Pillar II,” said Ben Sorensen, Director of Innovation and Commercialization at EPE, one of the founding members of the consortium.

“This initiative extends beyond advancing our space industry; it encompasses critical applications in climate change monitoring, critical mineral sourcing for Earth’s green transition, and remote operations in healthcare. This integrated approach not only benefits our space endeavours but also contributes significantly to vital industries on Earth.”

The public unveiling of this early rover prototype aims not only to showcase progress but also to engage the Australian public, the consortium has said. ELO2 seeks to make space more accessible by actively involving citizens in space exploration and hopes that the display of this prototype will encourage comments, feedback and ideas.

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