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Engineering

Destination Mars: student engineers aim for the red planet

Published: 25 April 2018
Mars vehicles

Seven University of Southampton undergraduates will be heading to the USA at the end of May to take part in an international contest to build a remotely-controlled Mars Rover.

Members of Team Pegasus will be taking their vehicle - the result of their final year group design project - to the 2018 University Rover Challenge at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah. This is the first time a UK team has taken part in the competition in its 12 year history.

Aeronautics and Astronautics student Finlay Milliner says: “We were thrilled to get through to the final and hope to do the UK proud. We are enjoying getting to grips with something real as part of our studies, it’s a big challenge and we have been using all the engineering techniques we’ve learned in our degree to make it work.”

To win the contest Pegasus 2.0, nicknamed Peggy, must be able to navigate and manoeuvre over bumpy terrain, drill beneath the surface to extract a sample of soil and test it for signs of life, and carry out routine maintenance. It weighs up to 50 kilos and stands two metres high on a 1.5 m2.

“We’ve come a long way in the last six months but there’s still a lot to do. We’re still working on the rover and sorting out the logistics and funding to get us and the Rover to the United States, as well as taking our exams, but we’re on track to get there,” adds Finlay.

“Airbus is allowing us to use its impressive planetary test site to put Peggy through her paces. The Mars Yard in Stevenage is key to the scientists’ preparations for the European Space Agency’s Exo-Mars mission in 2020. We can’t wait to see how she will perform ‘on Mars’.”

The University Rover Challenge will pit 36 teams from 10 countries against each other over three days. Groups had to submit a systems review with full costings and a video to go through to the final and 20 failed at this stage. Team Pegasus is now launching a crowd funding campaign to help them raise the money for the flights to Utah.

Students working on their Mars vehicles
Students working on their Mars vehicles

Team Pegasus is supervised by Dr Hugh Lewis the University of Southampton’s internationally renowned space engineer who specialises in research into space debris and its safe removal. They meet weekly to discuss progress and plan next steps. Team members are: Jon Hooke, Ed Wilson, Carl Heimann and Alastair Hirst (Mechanical Engineering) and Finlay Milliner, Felix Brasseur and Sam Price (Aeronautics and Astronautics).

“It’s fantastic to complete our degrees by taking part in this amazing competition. It’s introducing us to cutting edge engineering and helping us to understand team dynamics and develop time management skills while enjoying the challenge as well,” says Finlay.

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