On the occasion of the missions of the Artemis program, a “tsunami” of the construction of space rovers has started on a global level, either at the operational or academic level. It was not so easy for the Greek space robotics team Beyond Robotics manage to win the first prize in the challenge Science Task and reach the 7th place in the world ranking in the competition European Rover Challenge among 25 teams from around the world.

Beyond Robotics is, in a way, a national effort since it consists of undergraduates, postgraduates, PhD students and consultants from ten Universities from all over Greece, people who collaborated for something that we would hardly imagine would be of Greek interest: the construction of a robotic spacecraft rover type vehicle.

“Regarding how we distinguished ourselves, I think the fact that we come from 10 Universities from all over Greece, which means that we have gathered passionate, dedicated and also qualified young people, who really want to volunteer to work on the construction of the space vehicle that will to represent our country, was what played the most important role. All this translated into an excellent, award-winning participation and we are delighted that the flag of Greece has flown” said Evita Psonico-founder and Operations Manager of the group, speaking to the APE-MPE radio station “Agency 104.9 FM” about the achievement of Beyond Robotics.

Beyond Robotics reached the finals of the European Rover Challenge, where it underwent various tests and simulations for a future mission to Mars after a dogged effort. “As the first Greek rover team to participate in the World Final of the European Rover Challenge 2023 we faced many challenges. One of them was finding space to build the rover but also funding to buy the necessary equipment to build it. We were lucky, even at the last minute, to meet him Dr. Hatzitheodoridis, a professor in the Department of Metallurgy at the National Technical University of Athens, who ensured us the patronage of NTUA and supported us both as an advisor to the team and by providing us with the necessary space for the construction of the rover, while we also came into contact with the Bodosaki Foundation, the which became our big donor for our participation in the World Final. Without their help, we would not have been able to participate or bring back the distinctions”, stressed Ms. Psoni.

In fact, the organizers also wanted Greece to be “present”. “The competition administration has been waiting for Greek participation for years and when they learned that Beyond Robotics from Greece will participate, they were excited as well as impressed by the fact that we managed to pass the qualifying reporting phase, which is extremely demanding. We were told that even experienced teams that have been participating for years don’t often make it through. They were very supportive and that gave us courage,” said the team’s Operations Manager.

Beyond Robotics

Until inhospitable Mars

The Greek rover design can do what is needed in a mission to Mars. “Our only difference is the looser technical specifications. Otherwise, our rover is designed to simulate missions to Mars, but not to actually go there. We compete on a track in Poland, without the extreme temperatures and without the need for telecommunication from millions of kilometers away and in friendlier conditions. For example, a thermal subsystem is not required to maintain a normal temperature in batteries and electronics – Mars has an average temperature of minus 60 degrees Celsius, but the similarities with real space rovers are many” explained Stratos Rigas, co-founder and Systems Engineer of the team, when was asked about differences and similarities between Beyond Robotics’ rover and those sent to Mars.

“The drive system, for example, has exactly the same layout (rocker bogie design with differential bar), that is, it uses a linkage that allows the vehicle to overcome obstacles or move on uneven terrain by keeping the wheels in contact with the surface , thus avoiding the risk of overturning. Also the subsystems of the rover, the equipment we chose, such as the cameras, the sensors, the robotic arm and the carousel-type sample storage system are quite similar to those we find in real missions”, emphasized the Systems Engineer of the Greek team.

There were areas in which Beyond Robotics did better in the competition than expected. “Our rover had an excellent performance, beyond the team’s expectations, in terms of its movement in the so-called Mars yard, a surface like the planet Mars. All of the competition’s tests were based on the rover’s ability to move either a little or a lot over rough terrain. TALOS managed to overcome rocks, hills, enter and climb out of craters without any problems, thus giving the team the opportunity to collect points from all the tests. This is mainly due to the correct choice of layout, material and dimensions during design. “Our surprise about the performance is also due to the fact that other teams with more experience than us in the competition had broken wheels or suspensions during the drive to the Mars yard, causing their rovers to stop,” said Mr. King.

The big challenge of the project and the next step

“The biggest challenge was the financial one. It was an important test point… of the rover’s construction. We had the plans, we had the space and we didn’t have the money to buy the necessary equipment. The problem was that because we were a new team and had neither a rover nor any significant distinction to show, companies and other agencies had difficulty trusting us” commented, from the logistics side, Michalis Diakonikolisco-founder and Project Manager of the team.

Mr. Diakonikolis also described the next goal that has already been set. “We are definitely aiming for more entries in the competition and definitely a better ranking. We have already started planning our new rover, TALOS2, which will represent us at the 2024 ERC, where we are aiming for the top five. Beyond the vehicle, through the search for executives we make sure that Beyond Robotics is constantly renewed with young students who have a passion for space and who love to work on these types of projects. In the future we would very much like to see practicals and diplomas implemented through our team as well as start educational programs for younger children, building towards our vision: the creation of a pan-Hellenic space community”, explained the co-founder of the team, talking about the next group steps.