OU Planetary Robotics Student Team

A project by: Rob Adlard


WE RAISED £13,538

from 104 donors

This project received pledges on Sun 17 Mar 2019
Help Open University students complete exciting educational space projects

The OU Planetary Robotics Student team are aiming to gain experience with real life projects relating to the space sector. Our projects in robotics and rockets provide experience for us in electronics, engineering design and materials, scientific goals, coding and project management. Your help is essential for us to be able to complete our projects, and to be able to travel to the prestigious international competitions representing the Open University.

We need your support with our two biggest challenges yet

Challenge 1 

The team is working on a Mars rover project creating an analogue rover with an in-situ science lab, robotic arm and autonomous navigation. We are now working hard to be accepted to the very competitive University Rover Challenge held in Utah. Last year the team was just 4 points away from the threshold for acceptance, and now with a bigger team, we are determined to succeed and we need your help.

Challenge 2

Our activities with rockets has led to us being accepted to compete in the prestigious collegiate rocket competition, The Spaceport America Cup. Representing the Open University, we will fly our OU-made rocket with an experiment carrying out real science that will provide real data for OU research students. 

Will you help support us in building our Mars Rover and Rocket to achieve our dream of travelling to America and competing against the world's most prestigious universities?

Both these projects sees our OU team pitted against big universities elsewhere in the world such as MIT, Harvard, and other places with great science and engineering activity. The OU senior research teams are involved in European Space Agency missions, including the Exo-Mars rover which will be the first European rover on Mars. The OU also has a great Space Science MSc degree programme which includes an award-winning module where students perform a Mars rover mission in the OU's unique Mars yard with the OU's rover (not ours). We, as Open University students hope to be ambassadors for all these incredible things; we're proud of the OU's connection to the world of space exploration, and unique opportunities for students.

Who we are

We're a team of 52 students, primarily undergraduate students, with some postgraduate students.. We have an academic adviser, but everything is our own work. You can see our short film on our project here which formed part of our entry to last year's competition.

The payload in our rocket will be an experiment that relates to the field of research into the formation of planetary bodies. Icy particles will be observed in the moments of microgravity with a specially developed camera donated by our sponsors, Dynamic Imaging Analytics, a Milton Keynes based company making imaging devices for use in space. (Below is an early test launch)

Spaceport America cup

Rockets are for still the most exciting expression of classical physics, Newton’s 3rd law made manifest for everyone to see (yes ok, 2nd too!). Although rockets aren’t new technology anymore, they are becoming more important than ever. From tackling climate change, to creating driverless cars; in the coming years far more rocket launches need to take place than ever before. Behind every significant piece of data is a rocket launch that delivered a satellite, imaging device or experiment into space.

Crucially for the UK and it’s future in the world, rockets are about to become something very important indeed. The UK government has mandated the UK Space Agency enable space launch from the UK by 2020/21. Satellites and science for the first time ever will be delivered into space from a UK soil. The UK needs to ‘tool up’ for this amazing opportunity, with more students gaining experience in rocket technology, and to be evangelical about the opportunities that data from space can have for UK business, for the general benefit to humanity, our knowledge of the universe and our place within it.

The OU rocket project could develop significantly. The rocket could be used to test the capability for flights in the UK, testing regulations and operations from UK spaceport locations. The rocket could be a tool for other OU research students to fly experiments, to test technology in advance of space missions.

University Rover challenge

It's certain that as space missions develop, to Mars and the Moon, rovers are going to be an integral aspect; a tools for astronauts, and as a precursor to manned missions. Rovers are still the only way currently to carry out scientific missions on Mars, and as big plans for Mars and the Moon develop, rovers will be required to take part in in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU), paving the way for humans.

The challenge takes place at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS); a site of great interest to geologists, and a great Earth-analogue for Mars. MDRS is used year round by scientists and students to carry out research, and it would be an incredible experience to get to take our rover there pitting it against those of other universities from around the world. 

how your donation will make a Difference

The team needs to build the rocket from scratch, develop the experiment, and make the payload housing and components, but some items are bought from commercial providers. 

Hitting our minimum target of £6,000 means that we can finish building the rocket and the rover, and carry out our test programme. Beyond that, we need to raise more funds in order to ensure that we can ship the rocket to the competition and take the team out to New Mexico and Utah. With more funds we make duplicate items to ensure that we have spares in the case of failures and accidents, to do further testing to ensure greater levels of success, and to leave a legacy to future students with assets that are not completely depleted. We will of course travel and find accommodation in the most effective way possible, staying in a shared house for the duration of the competition.

An example of some of our costs:

  • £1000 = The cost of the materials to make the airframe
  • £800 = Shipping the rocket to the competition and back again
  • £700 = Our entry fee to the competition
  • £600 = Cost of travel per person (as of a search January 2019)
  • £550 - £700 = accommodation for the whole team for a week
  • £500 = would buy the the propellant for the rocket motor (final propellant with 10,000 N s total impulse)
  • £250 = electronics for controlling the recovery systems for the rocket
  • £200 = the cost of a parachute for the recovery
  • £100 = materials to build the frame for the payload
  • £50 = the cost of a drogue parachute

Further to that:

  • £250 allows us to complete each test flight in the UK
  • £700 would allow us to re-use the rocket to a higher altitude for further scientific experiments in the UK.

The Rover requires more mechanical work, electronics, and there is the cost of shipping the rover to the Utah desert, and getting the team there too.

  • £1100 = The cost of shipping the rover to Utah 
  • £500 = the cost of motors to complete our rover
  • £600 = Cost of travel per person (as of a search January 2019)
  • £550 - £700 = accommodation for the whole team for a week
  • £250 = Lidar system for mapping obstacles for the autonomous navigation task
  • £200 = completing the cameras for the rover
  • £200 = Our entry fee to the competition
  • £150 = materials to complete making our end-effector/gripper
  • £50 = one stepper motor
  • £30 = one micro-electronics board


We'd like to offer some great experiences as rewards for people supporting us, you can arrange to see us and the rocket at a test launch, but also take part in the OU 50 rewards; fund one of 50 special particles to be used in the experiment in that are branded in OU colours to celebrate 50 years of the Open University.

Find us here


Facebook: @OUrocket and @OUplanetaryrobotics


Twitter: https://twitter.com/OUroverteam

Help us to achieve our dream

We would be so incredibly grateful if you can support our project with a donation. But, you don't just have to give money to help us succeed! Please share this project with anyone you think would support us – on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, by email, telephone, in a chat over the fence or on your blog.

In fact, share it with everyone you know as we think it's a great idea, and the more people who know about it, the more likely we are to make this work out brilliantly.

And we know we said you don't need to give money to help us, but we'd love it if you did! Please sponsor us and help make this happen.