Student engineers test-driving lunar rovers in Oxfordshire this weekend

14 July 2017

Bath SpaceSoc rover

Bath SpaceSoc rover
(Credit: Bath SpaceSoc)

Robotic lunar rovers, built by student engineers from six UK universities, will be put through their paces this Sunday, July 16, in a series of challenges in the robotics trials area and Lunar Yard at the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire. 

The event, which will be streamed live online, is the first Lunar Rover Competition to be organised by the UK’s national student space society UKSEDS and is being hosted by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space facility.

The key challenge the lunar rovers will need to overcome is based upon a potential future robotic mission to a crater on the lunar south pole. As part of that mission, each lunar rover is required to drive through rough terrain to the bottom of the crater to collect ice samples. The ice is then tested to ensure it is safe for future astronauts to collect. Like the real mission, the student’s rovers will need to be remotely operated via cameras in order to navigate rocks and steep slopes and be designed to survive the rigorous shaking of a simulated rocket launch.

As well as meeting these technical challenges, the students have already successfully presented their designs to a range of space engineering experts at industry standard review panels.

“Opportunities like this are critical for building the practical skills that allow students to excel in the modern workplace,” says James Telfer, Chair of UKSEDS. “In particular, the focus on the processes used in the space industry and engagement with our industrial partners gives a great insight into the challenges that face a new space engineer. Plus, building robots is fun!”

Aqua Lunar

Aqua Lunar
(Credit: Bath SpaceSoc)

To reach the final stage of the Lunar Rover Competition the six undergraduate teams from across the UK have had to design, construct and test a lunar rover to a set of engineering and science requirements over a period of 9 months. The teams, from the Universities of Manchester, Bath, Bristol, Surrey, West of England and Cranfield, also had to pass a comprehensive review panel of space industry engineers from Thales Alenia Space in the UK, the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space facility and Oxford Space Systems. Completion of that review unlocked funding to help the six successful teams build their rovers.

“The majority of engineering and science graduates are coming to us without a knowledge of how the space industry actually works,” says Andrew Bacon, Industrial Advisor to the project from Thales Alenia Space in the UK, “so we conceived this project together with UKSEDS to give UK students a headstart and to help close the skills gap for the burgeoning UK space industry which requires over 20,000 new engineers and scientists by 2030 in order to remain competitive. It has been great to see how the students have stepped up to this challenge and it gives me great hope for the next generation of engineers.”

As well as being hosted by STFC’s RAL Space other support for the event is being provided by Airbus Defence and Space. The event begins at 08:00 on 16 July at the RAL Space Harwell site, and will be streamed live on YouTube.

Dr Chris Mutlow, Director of RAL Space, said of the event “We are delighted to support this competition with the use of our space test facility and robotics trials area and recognise the value of comparable and robust testing of space instrumentation. We wish all the teams good luck with their rovers.”

The awards, provided by Thales Alenia Space in the UK, will be presented to the teams who best complete the objectives, and to the team who performed the best at the industry review panels.

Lunar Rover Challenge Update

17 July 2017

The University of Surrey team took first place in the competition, with Cranfield University winning a prize for the best critical design review.

Notes for editors

The Lunar Rover Competition has been organised by UKSEDS, the UK’s student space society and its partner, Thales Alenia Space in the UK and sponsors STFC’s RAL Space, Oxford Space Systems and Airbus Defence and Space UK. Inspired by past and future missions from NASA and the European Space Agency, the competition challenges undergraduate students to solve engineering problems, using industry-standard techniques, tools and processes. More information on the competition can be found here.

UKSEDS contact

Robert Garner

Media contacts

Caroline Callard, Head of Communications

Jill Hutchinson
Thales Alenia Space

About the teams

ManSEDS University of Manchester  
Aqua Lunae University of Bath @BathSpaceSoc
EARS (Electronic and Amateur Radio Society) University of Surrey @SurreyEARS
BristolSEDS University of Bristol @bristolseds
CranSEDS Cranfield University @CranSEDS
UWESEDS University of West England @UWE_SEDS



UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UKSEDS) is the UK’s national student space society. It supports students and enthusiasts across the country by running space projects, hosting conferences and workshops, and doing outreach to inspire and educate. It aims to promote space development and build links between different parts of the space community.

UKSEDS, formed in 1988, is the UK chapter of SEDS, the world’s largest space enthusiast organisation for both school and university students. SEDS was founded in 1980 by students at MIT and Princeton University and now has more than 60 chapters worldwide. | @ukseds |

UKSEDS is a charitable body, registered in England & Wales, with registration number 1158580.

About Thales Alenia Space in the UK

Thales Alenia Space in the UK was established in 2014 with offices in Bristol, Harwell and Belfast and is a leader in propulsion systems, mission subsystems, and next generation payloads for telecoms, satellites and UK satellite constellations. Thales Alenia Space in the UK is also responsible for the Broadband Radiometer – a space borne instrument, as part of the European Space Agency ‘Earthcare’ programme, which will help scientists understand and monitor global warming.


RAL Space is an integral part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). RAL Space carries out world-class space research and technology development with involvement in over 210 space missions.

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000