Imperial students’ innovative lunar landing pad wins Airbus competition


Liam Donnelly and Ellie Abel, winners of the Airbus Student Space Competition

Imperial students, Liam and Ellie, are awarded first place for their proposal outlining manufacture and assembly of landing pads on the Moon.

Undergraduate engineering students Liam Donnelly (Aeronautics) and Ellie Abel (Materials) have won the Airbus Student Space Competition with their novel Astrobrick Lunar Landing Pads design. This marks the third consecutive win of the competition by individuals from Imperial, showcasing strong performance in space-related innovation.

Rocket engines, needed to reach the moon, often pose challenges as their high-velocity exhaust jets scatter lunar surface materials with force, destroying any nearby equipment. Building reusable and recognised lunar landing pads will help mitigate these risks in offering a robust solution for future lunar exploration. 

In exploring motivations for the project, Liam said: “As the pace of development in the space sector accelerates and ambitious projects aim to establish a permanent human presence on the moon, the technology supporting lunar landings is becoming as essential as car parks on Earth. Our design helps to addresses previously overlooked challenges, paving the way for further human space exploration.”

In a compelling business case and presentation pitch, Liam and Ellie outlined their proposal for landing pads with ambitious design features focused on erosion reduction, thermal shock prevention and adaptable manufacturing processes. The team’s detailed approach to production, construction and assembly will enable safe and reliable landing pads on the Moon’s surface. 

Astrobrick Lunar Landing Pads and RoversThe proposed Astrobrick Lunar Landing Pads are built from smaller tiles that can be joined together to form larger structures. Transporting materials from Earth, to build such tiles, would be expensive and so the team looked to utilise natural resources in space.

Using lunar soil (regolith), Astrobrick tiles will be assembled with four key components of design:

  • Thermal blanket: This top layer offers thermal-shock resistance via basalt fibres with high conductivity.
  • Basalt fibre ‘rebar’: Embedded within the tiles, these fibres help to withstand immense forces generated during landings.
  • Sintered ceramic tile: Lunar regolith is compacted into tessellating tiles, complete with interlocking geometry for assembly and mechanical seal. This tight seal will help to prevent lunar surface erosion beneath the landing pad.
  • Compacted regolith: Any surplus lunar regolith is compacted to create a structural support layer below the ceramic tiles.

All components will be delivered by two rovers that work together to form an efficient assembly line. Rover One will act to collect and separate regolith materials using magnetic filtering, form basalt fibres and lay the thermal blanket. Rover Two will collect materials from Rover One, sinter tiles using microwaves and set the tiles in place.

Liam and Ellie’s proposal also incorporates solutions for rover design to facilitate continuous operation and longevity. Each rover would be treated to ensure they are resistant to high levels of radiation, have motors designed to counteract the intake of dust and be equipped with a battery-powered internal heating system to withstand cold lunar nights. Such rover design also allows for potential repurposing, extending their utility beyond the initial mission.

Ellie highlights how their diverse expertise proved advantageous: “Materials science played a crucial role in the project, especially in regard to leveraging and processing lunar regolith for various purposes. Liam’s Aeronautics knowledge allowed him to successfully model the impact of rocket engine exhausts on the lunar environment. And together we were able to design system interfaces and rover functionalities, aligning with aerospace, material and financial requirements.”

The annual Airbus Student Space Competition is open to all UK undergraduates and Master’s students. Students are invited to propose technologies to address current issues using creative thinking and research.


Ayesha Khan

Ayesha Khan
Department of Aeronautics


Engineering-Aeronautics, Engineering-Materials
See more tags