Olsen Actuators & Drives secures UK Space Agency funding for development of lunar rover drive system

Project will deliver Proof of Concept demonstrator for a jumping lunar rover to explore lunar lava tubes for potential human habitation.

Sci-Tech Daresbury, Warrington, UK, March 6, 2024: Leading provider of actuators and space-certified motor drives, Olsen Actuators and Drives has won its first UK Space Agency funding to deliver a Proof of Concept (PoC) demonstrator for a new lunar rover being designed by the University of Manchester, and funded by the Enabling Technologies Programme (ETP).

The project will develop and fabricate a jumping robot system capable of thrusting upwards, descending, and self-righting that will be lowered into lava tubes under the surface of the Moon which have been earmarked for potential initial future human habitation.

The omni-directional hopping rover will incorporate a payload driven-design and integrated sensors. The jumping motion of the rover will make navigation of the lava tubes more effective than a wheeled rover due to their rocky, uneven terrain. The lander will collect data on the topography of the lava tubes to gain understanding on how viable the location is for habitation.

Olsen Actuators and Drives is developing the drive for a winch system that will lower the rover into the lava tubes. This drive system must withstand extremely challenging conditions including temperature ranges of -100° to 200°, the ability to ensure that the sensors and systems are not hindered by the adhesive and abrasive regolith (lunar soil), and radiation. It must also deal with the harsh vacuum conditions within the lunar tubes.

The UK Government’s ETP provides opportunities for the UK space sector to accelerate the development of leading-edge technologies that could be used to tackle global problems and benefit the work of space organisations internationally. The University of Manchester has been awarded £190,000 under this funding programme to develop alternative motion techniques that expand the range and operating capabilities for extra-terrestrial robotics, supporting future rover and exploration missions.

Piers Olsen, CEO, Olsen Actuators and Drives, commented: “Space exploration is such an exciting and important field to be involved in, so we’re naturally delighted to be selected by the UK Space Agency to work with the University of Manchester on this project. Over recent years, Olsen has significantly developed its product offering for the space sector, and our experience and range of products are perfectly geared to support a wide range of space applications, including rover and exploration missions.”

Dr Kate Smith, Reader in Aerospace Engineering, University of Manchester added: “Space-based systems and orbital services are vital for global development, sustainability, and for improving our understanding of the universe. This is a challenging project to undertake due to the conditions on the Moon. We need a drive system that is capable of dealing with the extreme lunar environment. Piers and his team have extensive experience with space-rated motor systems, and their expertise and technology will be pivotal to the success of this project.”

Olsen Actuators and Drives offers a world leading range of space-rated motor drives/power electronics. The company provides commercially off-the-shelf (COTS), customised or fully bespoke, motion control solutions with radiation-hardened components and space-specific specifications to speed up design, testing and integration. Its range of power electronics & drives are specifically designed with space applications in mind. 

About Olsen Actuators and Drives

Olsen Actuators & Drives was founded in 2004 by Piers Olsen, an engineer with over three decades of experience and success in delivering solutions for challenging applications in some of the most demanding situations. Through its provision of complete solutions in precision technical markets, Olsen Actuators & Drives has built a reputation for delivering electro-mechanical systems including customised patented electric actuators combined with power electronics. High-profile applications include power turbine valve control, manned primary flight controls in the aerospace & space sector, dynamic static and endurance testing of components and systems in the prime contractor defence sector and clean energy-efficient pressing and sealing, moulding and dispensing in the medical and pharmaceutical sector.

Olsen Actuators & Drives is a global leader in the customisation and integration of complete electromechanical systems. Every product or solution provided, whether it's a single actuator or a sophisticated control system, benefits from our applications and technical knowledge often adding value to the end client solution.

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