Two Australian space startups will receive $4 million grants each from the federal government as part of its Moon to Mars Trailblazer initiative to design semi-autonomous rovers to land on the Moon.
Perth-based Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth (AROSE) consortium and the EPE and Lunar Outpost Oceania consortium will each receive $4 million towards developing their early-stage lunar prototypes as part of Stage 1 of the Australian Space Agency’s Trailblazer program.
The rover, which aims to launch by 2026, is part of the NASA Moon to Mars mission, which will be a major step towards a sustainable human presence on the Moon and supporting future missions to Mars.
The announcement was made as NASA Administrator Senator Bill Nelson visits Australia and the agency this week.
The AROSE consortium involves two companies: Fugro, creators of Australia’s Space Automation, AI & Robotics Control Complex (SpAARC); and Nova Systems, an Australian-owned engineering services and technology solutions company.
AROSE currently has 15 members with established space and resources capability including major mining and energy companies, universities and leading service providers. Woodside Energy and Rio Tinto are also supporting the AROSE Trailblazer Stage 1 alongside the Western Australian Government.
AROSE CEO Leanne Cunnold said Australia has world-leading expertise in managing remote operations and robotics in complex and hazardous environments.
“AROSE is a partner-driven organisation with a clear vision to attract the best talent and technology to support local and international space missions,” she said.
“The ripple effect of projects like Trailblazer and the overall benefits they can bring to all Australians cannot be overestimated. Just as the Apollo mission inspired a generation of aspiring astronauts, Trailblazer has the power to motivate our future space scientists, engineers and tech specialists. They will see Australian smarts, expertise and technologies in action on the Moon, demonstrating Australia’s emerging role in space.”
Federal industry and science minister Ed Husic said the Trailblazer program will help develop Australia’s robotics and automation capability, aligning with the development of the government’s National Robotics Strategy.
“It is great that, with this announcement, Administrator Nelson will get to witness first-hand the extensive knowledge and capability in our space sector, as well as robotics and automation more broadly,” he said.
“From those selected to be part of the Trailblazer program, to other industry success stories and our impressive universities and research organisations, Australia has much to be proud of.
“Programs like Trailblazer are important to growing our space sector, as well as our know-how in robotics and automation. It also has an important role to play in inspiring more young Australians to consider STEM careers,” Minister Husic said.
The rover will collect lunar soil, known as regolith, from the Moon and deliver it to a NASA payload, which will attempt to extract oxygen from the sample. It’s seen as a critical step to supporting a sustainable human presence on the Moon, Mars and beyond.
The second consortium involving US-based Lunar Outpost, which specialises in commercial planetary mobility, with Queensland-based EPE, a 25-year veteran of robotics and autonomous systems for research and defence will also focus on the design and development of a lunar rover.
Lunar Outpost has established a local subsidiary, Melbourne-based Lunar Outpost Oceania (LOOC) for the project. LOOC will leverage the knowledge from prior space missions involving the parent company while building local Australian expertise.
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