Lunar Zebro: students take aim at the Moon
Once you arrive at the world's largest space fair, the International Aeronautical Congress (IAC), first you walk straight by Ariane's rocket and then turn left after ESA's booth. When you have passed three satellites you will see about 10 red jackets under the orange booth of the Netherlands: the TU Delft student team Lunar Zebro. With the guidance of their professors, they will soon go to the Moon with their semi-autonomous rover Laika.
It's starting to get serious now
Lunar Zebro's qualification model stands well-protected in an aluminium and glass display case. ''Nothing should happen to this model,'' Marnix Verkammen, one of the students, explains to the interested visitors. ''In 2023, this model is going to be extensively tested at the Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre. These are necessary to ensure the rover is robust enough for space travel.'' Temperatures ranging from near absolute zero to oven temperatures, forces of up to and including 20G: the small Rover will be pushed to its limits. Serious negotiations with major space companies to go to the Moon are well advanced, and the fact that Lunar Zebro can now take advantage of this exclusive testing opportunity demonstrates how far they have come.
''It is starting to get serious now.'' Associate Professor Chris Verhoeven is typically content with remaining in the background, like a proud father watching from the sidelines of a sports field. However, if given the opportunity, he gladly shares his enthusiasm for the project. ''Of course, I always had confidence in the ambitions, otherwise I would not have put so much energy into this. It is special to see how far we have come. This year the atmosphere at the fair is different from past years. Everyone can now see that with the qualification model that we are a serious party." A quick survey of the other booths at the fair highlights that confidence, in total there are less than a handful of rovers present at the fair, let alone models ready for a real Moon mission. TU Delft's student rover is one of the exceptions.
Lunar Zebro's team consists of about 60 students, from a variety of faculties. Some students, already working on their Master’s degrees, have been involved since their first year of study. ''Education across all levels is a high priority. Everyone is welcome to join us, and this aspect differentiates us from other student teams within TU Delft. For example, we have students working part-time on challenges of Laika, but also some work full-time on leadership roles. In addition to these, dedicated students pursue Bachelor End Projects (BEP) and MS Thesis projects under the expert guidance, comprising of staff and industry members, to address future science and technology challenges of Lunar Zebro. '' says Professor Verhoeven. All these learning possibilities are being brought together in a new iteration of the rover: the space rover.