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International rover competition held in Adelaide

Students travelled to Adelaide from Bangladesh and Poland to compete in an international space rover competition hosted by the University of Adelaide over the weekend.

Mar 25, 2024, updated Mar 25, 2024

The fourth annual Australian Rover Challenge (ARC) attracted 14 teams this year, an increase from three that competed in the inaugural 2021 competition.

The competition is part of Australia’s $150 million commitment to NASA’s Moon to Mars initiative, as the NASA Artemis Program plans to return to the moon for the first time since 1972.

Co-lead of the University of Adelaide’s ARC team Georgia Dallimore said a number of the tasks the rovers have to complete are mirrored in NASA’s Artemis Program, which will see an Australian-built and operated rover being sent to the moon to collect lunar soil.

“To have that connection with an actual real life Australian lunar mission and to be doing I guess the practice runs for that is so exciting,” Dallimore said.

Australia’s moon rover, named Roo-ver, is slated for launch in 2026.

Competition co-founder and director of the Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources John Culton said he had been told by international competitors that the event is “the most technically challenging competition in the world”.

“We have really put a lot of thought into trying to emulate the kinds of missions that you’re going to see going to the lunar surface in the next couple of years,” Culton told InDaily.

Rovers competing must carry out a number of real-life tasks. Photo: Supplied

Dallimore said the competition was “incredibly tough”.

“When we compete in this challenge, it doesn’t feel like a normal university competition, it feels like a mission simulation,” Dallimore said.

“You’re in this mission control room where you can’t see the robot, all you can see is its own eyes… you have cameras on top of the rover and you rely completely on that.”

The Wroclaw University of Science and Technology from Poland achieved first place in the 2024 competition, with Monash University getting second and the University of Queensland third. Dallimore’s Adelaide University team achieved fifth place.

Culton said the Australian Rover Challenge allowed professionals in the space industry to meet and learn from students, inviting collaboration in the Adelaide space sector.

“The mission for the Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources is enabling long-term human presence in deep space. So we’re running a rover challenge, but our focus at the centre is human beings,” Culton said.

“Humans aren’t going to go into space without their robotic companions.”

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