Wheeled, tracked and walking rovers competed to survey a shadowy analogue of the polar lunar surface for useable resources during the first field test of the ESA-ESRIC Space Resources Challenge. Some 12 teams from across Europe and Canada took part in the field test in the Netherlands, with five winners going on to the next phase of the contest.
The Space Resources Challenge – supported by ESA and the European Space Resources Innovation Centre (ESRIC) in Luxembourg – asked European (and Canadian) researchers and institutions to develop and demonstrate a system of one or more vehicles capable of prospecting resources on the Moon in the near future.
Working inside a former aircraft hangar, the competition organisers spread 200 tons of lava rock across an area equivalent to seven tennis courts, landscaping it into a Moon-like environment, including the main crater of interest. Then they scattered rocks, including a hundred simulated boulders larger than a metre across, whose positions were precisely geo-referenced.
These measurements served as the basis of a map provided to the rover teams. The idea was to give them the equivalent level of local information from satellite imagery, while still leaving smaller-scale surprises. Once complete, the moonscape was kept concealed from the rover groups behind black curtains, so they would see it only through the cameras of their rovers. The 12 teams each made their prospecting attempt one at a time.
The competing rovers had to navigate and map the whole test environment to prospect for useable resources – meaning first of all to track down their location, identify the best and safest passages and then to gather information about the characteristics and the composition of the rocks they located.
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