Using “C-Shaped Wheels”, This Rover Can Climb Tougher Moon Terrain

Using "C-Shaped Wheels", This Rover Can Climb Tougher Moon Terrain
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Student teams are an undervalued resource in most of the scientific community. While in college, joining a team working towards a goal, whether racing solar cars or digging fish ponds in Africa, is an excellent way to hone technical and project skills while improving communication and teamwork. The space industry is starting to capture these strengths, with teams of students developing exciting projects around the world. A new entry came from students at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands – a six-legged robot named Lunar Zebro with a unique wheel drive.

Zebro, short for “zes-benige robot” or six-legged robot in Dutch, was first developed in 2013 as a concept for students to work on. Originally designed for terrestrial applications, the group had a total of more than 120 students. Over the past five years, it has also decided to develop the Lunar Zebra, with the intention of becoming the first European rover on the lunar surface.

To navigate such rough terrain, the rover uses a unique motion system originally designed as the RHex project at the University of Pennsylvania. These wheels allow the A4 paper-only rover to pass much larger obstacles than wheeled rovers in its size class.

Video describing the Lunar Zebra project.
Credit – ESA

Even at such a small size, the rover can pack enough sensors on its platform, including two custom-built cameras and a radiation sensor. Its original mission is to remain operational on the Moon and continue to communicate with ground stations at TU Delft for ½ lunar day (or 14 Earth days) while powered by sunlight.

Ensuring the little rover can afford the moon challenge is a challenge. The team conducted in situ testing in some of the most hostile environments on Earth, including lava tubes in Iceland and the slopes of the Alps. But space presents even more challenges, including constant radiation and extreme temperature fluctuations, and the team believes the rover can handle it in its current configuration.

In this configuration, the rover can be attached to any country’s lunar lander, but it doesn’t appear that the student body has chosen a specific lander to ride on its back. Nor have they chosen a timeline for when this launch might happen. But that didn’t stop them from planning the next phase.

Project Presentation update in Lunar Zebra,
Credits – NWO Wetenschap YouTube Channel

This phase will involve exploiting one of the advantages of the Lunar Zebro’s small size – it is relatively inexpensive to manufacture. So someone can make more of them and then tie them together in a flock. The TU Delft team isn’t the only robot team with this idea, but the Lunar Zebro project looks like a good platform. Linking multiple small robotic systems together can provide more information than any rover can do alone.

However, in order to move on to that part of the mission, the team must first undertake the first month mission. There, the advantages of a student-led team emerge. They will have a never-ending supply of students willing to work on the project, and the project itself builds TU Delft’s reputation as a university where students can work on advanced projects like this one. However, these students also return after a certain time. Some went on to start their own space-related companies, but more importantly, it allows the university to offer its students the experience of participating in and even leading valuable technical projects. They might even say they’re working on a lunar rover one day – and that’s pretty cool in itself.

Learn more:
ESA / TU Delft – Moon Zebra
UT – Masten Space is Building a Lunar Lander for NASA. Also, They Just Filed For Bankruptcy
UT – Moon Travelers! Transform and Get Out!
UT – Five Rover Teams Selected to Explore the Moon’s South Pole

Lead Image:
Lunar Zebra being tested.
Credit – TU Delft

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