The European Rover Challenge is an international competition of student Mars rovers, which took place in mid-September in Kielce. It also includes science and technology shows, debates, meetings with space industry experts and many other accompanying events. We visited the event with a camera as part of the “Science is a Polish specialty” series.
The 9th edition of the European Rover Challenge Mars rover competition took place on September 15-17, 2023 at the Kielce University of Technology. As part of the “Science is a Polish specialty” series, we visited the competition with a camera and talked to the organizers, students taking part in the competition and one of the guests – Dr. Sławosz Uznański, an ESA reserve astronaut who has a chance to become the second Pole to fly into space.
Four competitions and a space jury
– The main idea of the rover challenge competition, including our European Rover Challenge, is to show the practical part of science done by student teams from around the world – Maciej Myśliwiec from the European Rover Challenge press office told “Wprost”. – But there is also one other important idea of this competition. Thanks to them, students get to know each other, but also meet representatives of the space sector from around the world who are members of the jury. This is extremely important because thanks to this they can see people who work in the space sector on a daily basis, but also these people can get to know them as future engineers – emphasizes the representative of the organizers.
The European Rover Challenge consisted of four competitions, most of which took place on a specially prepared Mars Yard, which reproduced the surface of the Red Planet. – All geological forms that may appear on Mars appear here – points out Maciej Myśliwiec. Teams coming to the European Rover Challenge must show that they are able to move on the surface of Mars without any problems and, above all, autonomously – he adds.
Teams of students had to perform various tasks using their rovers. – This year, for the first time, teams had to drill a sample with a drill. If they failed at that, they could sample from 20 centimeters, which means the rovers must also be able to dig. Their manipulators must be ready to collect a specific sample and then test it, says the organizer’s representative. – Rovers also face a maintenance competition, in which they must show that they are suitable for operating various devices. There is a special board where they turn on switches and plugs, showing that they can be useful to astronauts on Mars, but also repair themselves, for example, or another rover – explains Maciej Myśliwiec.
One of the competitions also involves presenting your team to a jury composed of representatives of the space sector.
The players are representatives of universities from all over the world. – These are student teams that construct their rovers from the very beginning in every aspect. From suspension, through mechanics and components related to sampling, to electronics and navigation – points out Maciej Myśliwiec. – These are not only European teams, because the European Rover Challenge is very respected in the world and very prestigious – he adds.
Poles at the forefront of the competition
The Polish team of AGH Space Systems won this year’s European Rover Challenge for the second year in a row. Even before the results were known, we managed to exchange a few words with the chairman of the group, Jakub Kopiec, who told us about their Kalman rover.
– Kalman can drive autonomously, collect soil samples and examine them, detect life and perform various other tests, as well as operate on the control panel: he can press a button, tighten a screw, insert a plug – Kopeć said. – All the tasks we receive at these competitions could be needed by an astronaut on Mars or the Moon – he added.
The design of students from AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow has been developed for six years. – In the case of this year’s ERC, the two biggest changes for us were creating a drill that was supposed to dig into the ground and collect samples from the lower layers, and constructing a drone whose task was to take off and explore the crater. These are two modules that we created from scratch this year, says the chairman of the AGH Space Systems group. Jakub Kopeć talked more about the activities of the AGH Space Systems group in the “People of Science” podcast.
The next places on the podium were taken by two teams from Switzerland. In turn, the second Polish team, SKA Robotics from the Warsaw University of Technology, was just behind the podium.
Dr. Sławosz Uznański: I hope I can inspire someone
However, the European Rover Challenge is not only about Mars rover competitions. – In addition to having competitions, we also have an inspiration zone and a demonstration zone. All those associated with the space sector or the popularization of science can present themselves in the demonstration zone. This is extremely important because we want to instill this love of science and space in the youngest. So that we can educate and inspire future astronauts and engineers – says Maciej Myśliwiec. – Our inspiration comes from the greats of the space sector from all over the world. Representatives of NASA, ESA, writers, scientists, science popularizers, astronauts – indicates and links to watch live reports from the following days, lectures and conversations on the European Rover Challenge channel on YouTube and on profiles in other social media.
One of the guests of the event was also Dr. Sławosz Uznański, an ESA reserve astronaut, who has already started training to participate in a space mission and has a good chance of becoming the second Pole to fly into space. In an interview with “Wprost”, Dr. Uznański said that he was very happy that he managed to appear at the European Rover Challenge in Kielce.
– I have a busy schedule, but interaction with students has always been important to me – emphasizes Dr. Uznański. – I also hope that I can inspire someone and share my experience – he adds.
We asked the ESA reserve astronaut for advice for young people who dream of following in his footsteps. – The biggest piece of advice, which I believe in very strongly, is that with hard work you can get very far, so you have to consistently strive to achieve your goals. I think it’s quite important. A large goal can be broken down into smaller steps and these small steps can be taken in the right direction, he emphasized. – The scientific path is a very satisfying career path, at least for me and I hope also for you – he told the students. – We can learn something new all our lives. Science is moving forward, technology is moving forward and during such a career path we will never be bored. Of course, there are always some challenges and difficult days, but throughout our scientific career we will be able to learn new things, he added.
Dr. Uznański also invites all students passionate about space to participate in the Direction Space competition, in which they can design an experiment that could be carried out on the International Space Station. – The competition is open to all students of Polish universities. All you need to do is create a group, build equipment or design a scientific experiment that could be performed on a space station, explains the scientist, adding that the prize in the competition is international internships and cooperation with experts from the space industry. – I hope that this can be the first experience that students can gain and use the springboard at the beginning of their career – he adds.