QUT's lunar testbed nears completion

Thursday, 21 December, 2023

QUT's lunar testbed nears completion

A lunar testbed, understood to be the first of its kind in Australia, is currently under construction at the Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Kelvin Grove campus as part of the $7.9 million QUT Space Technology Precinct. The precinct’s development has been led by Associate Professor Thierry Peynot, with the lunar testbed set to begin operating in 2024.

As the centrepiece of the precinct, the 19 x 11 m lunar testbed will be capable of simulating multiple planetary environments to support robotics, sensing and other research applied to space. Peynot said a vehicle, for example, would be able to go through its paces in realistic Moon conditions with an arena containing simulated regolith (fabricated moon dust), slopes and boulders.

“The lunar environment … is incredibly challenging — it has no atmosphere; exceptionally fine, charged and reactive dust that sticks to everything; 300° temperature variations; and 200 times Earth’s radiation,” Peynot said.

“It is not possible for us to replicate all of those particular conditions, but the use of fabricated moon dust in the facility will provide a realistic surface and terrain for a rover to navigate across, along with the optical properties that are crucial to test robotic perception.

Associate Professor Thierry Peynot, Ali Buchberger and Andy Keir standing on the testbed. Image credit: QUT Media.

“The lunar testbed will also have a gantry crane which will enable us to simulate the level of gravity on the Moon — which is one-sixth of the Earth’s gravity — by holding up some of the weight of the vehicle as it navigates across the testbed.

“We will also have the ability to use sunlight, realistic lighting conditions and high ceilings to facilitate tests to simulate the atmosphere of Mars for testing drones.

“Such testing does not apply to the Moon, which has no atmosphere and thus offers no way to fly drones for example.”

Peynot said robotics, mechatronics, electrical engineering, renewable power engineering and industrial design students would use the facility, and there was potential for use by students and research groups studying astrobiology, planetary surface exploration and computer–human interactions.

“Community visitors will also be encouraged to observe simulations — on some special occasions — from a public viewing platform as part of QUT’s commitment to STEM outreach,” he said.

Top image: Construction is nearly completed at the QUT lunar testbed. Image credit: QUT Media.

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