May 1, 2008 The development of a new generation of lunar rovers has been given a boost thanks to funding for an exchange program between the Surrey Space Centre and the University of Beijing. The exchange will pave the way for future moon projects such as the UK‘s proposed Moonraker lander mission and the second phase of China's Chang'e programme.
The funding will see Dr Gao from the Surrey Space Centre and Associate Professor Hehua Ju of the Beijing University of Technology work on one of the first projects supported by The Royal Academy of Engineering's new Research Exchanges with China and India scheme. The pair will spend six months working at each other's universities, investigating onboard guidance, navigation and control systems for a lunar rover that allows the rover to operate autonomously.
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One challenge is to develop robust stereo vision systems with precision of centimeters and can cope with the bright sunlight owing to the Moon's thin atmosphere. Autonomous localization, path and motion planning techniques applicable to the lunar mission scenario will also be investigated. This forms part of their overall plan to establish a remote control station in Surrey and operate during field tests in China of a latest lunar rover prototype. Dr Gao said the collaboration will help to generate key robotic technologies for future lunar explorations, which are of major interest to both parties.
Working towards phase two of China's Chang'e program will be key to the partnership. The program, named after an angel in a Chinese legend who drinks a magic potion and flies to the Moon, successfully launched its lunar orbiter Chang'e 1 in November 2007. China's National Space Agency now has plans for a robotic lander and rover mission in the second phase after 2012.