Innovative 3D Printed Roo-ver: The Future of Moon Dust Transportation for Rover Missions


One of Australia’s two competing teams in the race to build a lunar rover has unveiled a first prototype. Dubbed the “Roo-ver,” this rover has been designed for a future Artemis mission with NASA, marking a new chapter in space exploration for Australia. This early prototype, which leverages 3D printing, was unveiled during the 16th Australian Space Forum in Sydney on December 6, 2023.

Two Australian industry consortiums, ELO2 and the Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth (AROSE), are at the forefront of Australia’s ambitious journey to the Moon. Both teams have worked on early-stage concepts for a lunar rover in the Australian Space Agency‘s (ASA) $50 million Moon to Mars Trailblazer program. In this initial program phase, each consortium received $4 million to develop a rover prototype. ELO2 recently unveiled its rover prototype, marking its first significant milestone.

Moon rover revealed

A collaborative effort involving a mix of Australian industries, space startups, big companies, universities, and research partners is the backbone of this rover prototype. This multi-disciplinary coalition is key to the complexity and innovation required in space exploration.

Developed by ELO2, this prototype represents a major leap toward engaging the Australian public in the nation’s space exploration journey, inviting their input, feedback, and creative ideas. Slated for operation by 2026, the rover is critical for the Trailblazer mission, which involves remotely collecting lunar soil and delivering it to NASA’s processing unit on the Moon.

This initiative, aimed at extracting oxygen from the lunar regolith, is crucial for supporting a sustainable human presence on the Moon and future Mars missions. As a significant component of the Moon to Mars initiative, the Trailblazer program contributes to a broader $150 million investment over five years to enhance Australia’s space sector. If selected for the Trailblazer mission, Roo-ver will play a crucial role in transporting lunar regolith to a NASA facility at the lunar south pole for oxygen extraction in the next decade. The prototype’s design, engineered specifically to overcome the Moon’s challenging terrain, tests chassis and suspension subsystems and introduces a specialized collection device and wheels.

Printed for space

A pivotal component of the Roo-ver project is its revolutionary utilization of 3D printing. This has profoundly enhanced the development of the rover, with Titomic playing a key role. Situated in Brisbane, this metal additive manufacturing firm is a member of the ELO2 project, and introduces its unique process called “Titomic’s Kinetic Fusion Additive Manufacturing” (TKF AM). This cutting-edge approach allows for the creation of high-performance parts and immediate coatings or repairs, making it suitable for the aerospace, automobile, defense, and mining sectors. Recognizing its potential, ASA has provided Titomic with funds to produce spacecraft parts.

The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University also made significant contributions towards the creation of the ELO2 lunar rover. The institution supports technical design and precision manufacturing through metal 3D printing. The research is led by the Associate Professor at the School of Engineering, Martin Leary. Renowned for his expertise in 3D printing studies at RMIT, Leary underlines the institution’s proficiency in advanced manufacturing and 3D printing, stating, “Linking our research abilities to industry-based opportunities for impact is an integral part of RMIT’s objectives.”

Moon mission blueprint

The Roo-ver is projected to be compact yet powerful machine, weighing approximately 20 kilograms and similar in size to a standard airport suitcase. Its key purpose will be to gather lunar soil, or regolith, and transport it to a NASA facility for scientific experiments, such as efforts to extract oxygen. This ability is pivotal in establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon, with oxygen being crucial for life support and rocket fuel. The design of the rover prioritizes autonomy and efficiency, demonstrating Australia’s foremost position in remote operations.

Moreover, Australia’s participation in NASA’s Artemis missions extends past the development of the Roo-ver. The nation also delivers key communication and technology services to support these missions. With the Moon to Mars initiative, Australian enterprises are developing technologies and services to assist NASA in accomplishing its goals for lunar and Martian exploration.

The reveal of the Roo-ver prototype does not only mark a significant milestone for the consortiums involved, but also serves as an invitation for the Australian public to participate in the country’s space endeavors. The nationwide competition to name the lunar rover serves as an example of this inclusive approach. The lunar rover was named “Roo-ver” through a nationwide contest that received more than 8,000 submissions. The winning name, put forth by a user named Siwa from New South Wales, is representative of Australian spirit and is a symbol of the country’s plunge into space exploration.

“The name of our lunar rover should reflect something unequivocally Australian and symbolize the Aussie spirit as we embark on these new adventures,” Siwa elucidates. “A kangaroo is part of the Australian Coat of Arms, and it’s time for Australian science to make the grand leap into space.” The kangaroo, an emblematic Australian symbol and a segment of the national Coat of Arms, now donates its name to this historic endeavor.

Community’s voice

Further encouraging public involvement, other initiatives such as the Big Dipper and Little Dipper Challenges have been introduced. These challenges invite people of all ages to contribute creatively to the rover project. The Big Dipper Challenge allows participants to propose designs for the regolith collection device, a critical component of the rover for lunar soil collection. Meanwhile, the Little Dipper Challenge, targeting younger enthusiasts, offers a platform for children to engage with space technology and innovation. Both challenges encourage a sense of collective achievement and national pride, allowing the Australian community to shape their country’s journey to the Moon actively.

In fact, these initiatives have already sparked significant interest and involvement. Space tech company Lunar Outpost Oceania’s Lauren Fell recently returned from a two-week term at the HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog & Simulation) habitat, an experience designed to simulate life on the Moon and Mars. In line with the spirit of the ELO2 Big Dipper Challenge, Lauren tested various 3D printed designs of regolith scoops, including those created using AI modeling, to collect lunar soil. Notably, the AI models did not perform as well as expected, highlighting the importance and value of human innovation in the Big Dipper Challenge. This challenge, open until December 18, invites participants to experience this thrilling mission. The Little Dipper Challenge also welcomes entries, providing young space explorers with a unique opportunity to engage with space technology and innovation.

Lunar Outpost Oceania’s Lauren Fell tested 3D printed designs as part of the ELO2 Big Dipper Challenge. Image courtesy of ELO2.

Australia’s journey into space exploration takes a significant leap forward with the unveiling the Roo-ver prototype, highlighting the collaborative strengths of Titomic, RMIT University, and the ELO2 consortium. If chosen for the Trailblazer mission, Roo-ver will be pivotal in transporting lunar regolith for NASA. Furthermore, Titomic’s involvement in developing and manufacturing specific components will be instrumental, should Roo-ver be selected, highlighting Australia’s expanding role in space technology and exploration.

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