Researchers and students at the Tartu Observatory of the University of Tartu have begun work on the development of what will become Estonia's first ever lunar rover. The project aims to land Estonian technology on the Moon by the end of this decade or the start of the next.
The first step in the process involves a feasibility study to determine what kind of lunar rover can be built in Estonia and then realistically delivered to the surface of the Moon. The preliminary study will also be used to gauge the level of interest among Estonian companies and scientists in testing out their technology on the Moon.
Head of the Space Technology Department at the Tartu Observatory Dr. Mihkel Pajusalu said, "In the near future, many rovers will be arriving on the Moon for scientific research, and NASA's Artemis space program has boosted the development of space technology in both the private and public sectors,"
"Over the long term, the Moon is a good intermediate step in preparing for space missions to Mars. So, starting the development of a lunar rover in Estonia now means we will have the necessary skills and technology to apply for Mars missions at a later date," Pajasalu added.
The starting point is KuuKulgur, inspired by cube satellites (such as ESTCube), which is currently being developed as a student project. The first prototype has already been completed. Estonian companies Crystalspace and LightCode Photonics are already onboard with the project, while negotiations to involve other Estonian companies are ongoing.
Crystalspace founder Jaan Viru, whose company develops space cameras and satellites said, that while cameras and software have already been developed in Estonia, this project is an important next step for the Estonian space industry.
"The year before last, together with several Estonian companies and the Tartu Observatory, we produced cameras for NASA's lunar mission," said Viru.
"This project offers an easier way for Estonian technology to reach other rovers or landers, which are destined for the Moon or, for example, Mars because the technology can be tested even before the flight," he explained.
Hans Teras, head of the NGO KuupKulgur, which was established to implement the project said
Teras said, that if the project is successful, it would put Estonian in the same bracket as a small group of successful companies and institutes
"Estonians, if successful, will be in the same company as selected companies and institutes from all over the world.
"If we are able to dream even bigger, if we launch the next spaceship to the Moon, we would potentially be only the third country in history whose robotic rover has left its wheel tracks on the surface of the Moon." However, he also pointed out, that it would be important for the team to keep their feet on the ground, at least for the time being.
"The basis for the success of a mission like this is comprehensive preliminary engineering work and a feasibility study," Teras said.
The project team aiming to send Estonian technology to the Moon includes Hans Teras and Quazi Saimoon Islam, both of whom are Ph.D. students at the Tartu Observatory of the University of Tartu with previous experience in the development of space missions.
Joining them are Silvar Muru, Karin Kruuse, Mathias Plans, Laur Edvard Lindmaa and Aditya Savio Paul. The group contains a mix of Ph.D. master's and bachelor's students from the University of Tartu, who study natural sciences and engineering.
Several Estonian space scientists including Mihkel Pajusalu, Viljo Allik, Aire Olesk and Ayush Jain are also providing their expertise to support the project.
Estonian companies Crystalspace and LightCode Photonics, who develop cameras and light sources and a depth camera, respectively, are also initially involved.
Editor: Michael Cole