UAE’s lunar rover will use artificial intelligence to explore the Moon

A Canadian firm is building an AI flight computer that will help the Emirati Rashid rover navigate the lunar surface

An advanced artificial intelligence flight computer will help the UAE’s lunar rover explore the surface of the Moon.

The navigation computer is being developed by Canadian space firm Mission Control Space Services.

It will recognise geological features as the Emirati rover, Rashid, drives around the unstable terrain of the lunar surface.

The computer will be installed on a Japanese lander that will take Rashid to the Moon next year, from where it will receive data from the rover. It will also send information back to Earth to be studied by scientists at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.

“With the support of the Canadian Space Agency, Canadian scientists and engineers will be able to participate in near-term missions to the lunar surface,” said Ewan Reid, president and chief executive of Mission Control.

Rashid will explore the near side of the Moon, which offers a smoother surface with fewer craters, but the terrain is still unpredictable.

The four-wheeled rover can climb over an obstacle at a maximum height of 10 centimetres and descend a 20-degree slope.

But some basins on the near side of the moon are so steep that it would be impossible for the rover to climb out, were it to fall into one.

The team at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre has shortlisted unexplored landing locations. The final decision will be based on an area that offers the most scientific value and security for the Arab world’s first lunar rover.

The navigation computer by Mission Control will include an AI application that will use deep-learning algorithms to recognise geological features in images captured by the rover.

“This research will explore techniques for more advanced rover navigation,” said Dr Melissa Battler, Mission Control’s chief science officer.

“By demonstrating this new technology on the moon, we will not only unlock potential autonomous decision-making capabilities for future rovers, but better support planetary-science missions going forward.”

The company secured a $3.04 million fund from the Canadian Space Agency’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Programme, part of which will be used to develop the computer.

Japanese firm iSpace is building the Hakuto-Reboot lander that will deliver the rover to the Moon. Both will take off on board a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida late next year.

The Emirates Lunar Mission will also be provided with wired communication and power during the cruise phase and wireless communication on the lunar surface by iSpace.

Rashid will study the properties of lunar soil, the geology of the moon, dust movement and its photoelectron sheath for one lunar day – about two weeks.

It will send back more than 1,000 images of the lunar surface.

Dr Hamad Al Marzooqi, project manager of the Emirates Lunar Mission, said it would be the first study of the photoelectron sheath.

It is a phenomenon that is created on the lunar surface due to the continuous bombardment of solar wind and cosmic rays," he said.

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Updated: May 31, 2021 01:48 PM

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