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Students design robotic lunar rover that could give us deeper look into the universe

Posted at 3:00 PM, Jul 17, 2019

There’s a group of students at the University of Colorado Boulder working on a project of astronomical proportions.

They’re building a prototype lunar rover that could help us understand the origins of the universe.

“This is the antenna module,” student Arun Kumar says, as he demonstrates the robotic rover, controlling it with a modified Xbox controller.

It’s part of NASA’s new Artemis program , which will once again send astronauts to the Moon.

The plan includes building a mini space station named The Gateway, which would orbit the Moon.

“That’s very different than what we did during Apollo, says astrophysicist and professor Jack Burns, who heads up the NASA-funded Network for Exploration and Space Science .

“I like to say this is bringing Silicon Valley to the Moon.”

Burns is working with students to develop the robot for the far side of the Moon.

“That far side is radio quiet. That is, none of the interference from the Earth either naturally occurring or artificial can reach the far side,” Burns says. “So, it’s the only place in the inner Solar System, where we can put a radio telescope down and listen to the hydrogen emissions coming from the very first stars and galaxies in the universe.”

Once deployed on the Moon’s surface, the robotic rover—which is controlled remotely--would position 128 antennas, all connected to each other. Working together, the antennas will be capable of receiving frequencies from around the time the very first stars were formed.

“That’s practically right after the Big Bang in those terms,” Burns says. “So, we can probe more deeply into the very early universe than with any other telescope.”

It’s a project the students are taking seriously.

“I’m only an undergrad and I get to play a role in this big event,” says Arun Kumar.

Working on the project with a sense of wonder, knowing they’re playing a part in a mission to the moon—a mission that could happen roughly around the year 2023.

“I definitely know what this is working towards,” says student Mason Bell. “So, it’s exciting to think about that.”