Imperial College London

Aero students achieve second place in International Space Challenge


An image of Team Luna Recon's lunar rover

An image of the team's lunar rover - © Team Luna Recon, 2021

A team of Aeronautics students has been awarded second place and a Distinction award in this year’s International Space Challenge.

Team Luna Recon, comprising three Aeronautics undergraduates and one Earth and Planetary Science undergraduate, were one of 140 teams participating in SSTL's International Space Challenge 2021. 

  • Ramana at the Awards Ceremony

    Ramana (R) at the Awards Ceremony

  • Ramana Sabapathy

    Ramana Sabapathy

  • Shaun Tan

    Shaun Tan

  • Ananya Mirchandani

    Ananya Mirchandani

  • Ong Su Jiat

    Ong Su Jiat

The team comprised of:

  • Ramana Sabapathy (Y4 Aeronautics with Spacecraft Engineering)
  • Shaun Tan and Ong Su Jiat (Y3 Aeronautics)
  • Ananya Mirchandani (Y2 Earth & Planetary Science)

    In response to the award, Ramana Sabapathy said “It is wonderful to have won the Distinction Award in an international space competition, and it is humbling to have our team's efforts recognised by leading industry experts from the aerospace and robotics fields."

The Challenge

The International Space Challenge is an annual event run by the Singapore Space and Technology Ltd. (SSTL), South East Asia’s leading space organisation.

The competition challenges young scientists and engineers to think creatively to solve “complex space-related and advanced-technology” problems. This year’s challenge involved the design of a rover model capable of carrying out excavation and/or In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) missions on the Moon. 

Moon Rover Concept

Team Luna Recon conceptualised a rover that could perform both excavation and ISRU. Weighing under 60kg and fitting snugly inside a 1 cubic metre box, the Regolith Excavation and Construction I rover (otherwise known as 'R-ECon I') excavates the moon's regolith (the fine, powdery dust, broken rocks, and other mineral matter of the upper lunar surface). The rover then uses natural solar radiation to perform solar sintering, converting the lunar regolith from a fine powder to structurally strong building blocks.  

A GIF of the Rover
© Team Luna Recon, 2021

The R-ECon I rover would be the first of its kind in outer space. It would also be the first to be able to construct infrastructure from lunar regolith on the Moon's surface at rates similar to those on Earth, paving the way for habitation and civilisation on the Moon in the near future. 

The team benefited from the expert advice of Imperial College London researchers Dr. Kathryn Hadler and Dr. Matthew Genge from the Earth & Planetary Science Department. They also consulted with industry experts like former NASA engineer Stanley Starr to iSpace lunar mining research engineer and Imperial PhD student Joshua Rasera. 

Ramana says it was a great pleasure working alongside his teammates: “We found ourselves bouncing ridiculous ideas off each other, from creating a jumping robot to designing a drone-rover combination. The multi-faceted experiences and knowledge of each member helped shape many of the design issues, and even our wackiest of discussions resulted in constructive criticism and progression in our design. I'm very thankful to have met, learned from, and worked with such talented and amazing individuals who brought so much creativity and passion to the project.”

"It would not have been possible without the expert guidance of our mentors at Imperial, and at NASA, who were as excited as we were about the rover"

He adds “This award is also a testament to the high level of engineering taught at Imperial - we relied on skills and knowledge gained through projects and coursework in helping with the design process.”


Tom Creese

Tom Creese
Department of Aeronautics

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Students, Student-experience, Engineering-Aeronautics
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