Uchusen presents what we call “Hopper Alpha”: a hover-capable lunar hopper (or indeed asteroid lander) developed by the team in less than a year. With a short series of 60-second videos, we present the results from Hopper Alpha’s goal to create a hover-capable demonstration model within a university calendar year using proven yet accessible technologies. It now forms part of University of Southampton’s ongoing MEng final year project, where success in the project represents a large proportion of the final year student’s grades. The project is co-sponsored by Uchusen, alongside University of Southampton and DELTACAT Ltd.
"Considering analysis, design and supply of components and materials takes up at least 4-5 months of that final year, apart from the other activities students have ongoing, team progress on building the hopper has been amazing" said Managing Director Mandali Khalesi at the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus, "There is a boom underway internationally for Near Earth Object asteroid missions (Obama’s 2010 space policy, ESA and JAXA’s Marco Polo mission, Planetary Resources) and around 8 missions planned for the Moon in the next 5 years alone. 21st century spacecraft development should be fast, affordable, repeatable, standardisable. Hopper Alpha is the first step towards agile spacecraft development required by this new century. The team has gone from a blank sheet of paper to the core physical and electronics framework ready for the gimbal/thruster, firing and hovering phase, all in under one calendar year. Simply fantastic."
It was a disappointment that Uchusen’s original challenge of build-and-hover within a year was not met, which really pushed the team to the limit. However the team are working on integrating the thruster, quickly finalising the gimbal and preparing for testing at a test-firing facility, and Uchusen is confident the delay can be absorbed in next year’s activities. It was also educational for us to understand the various challenges faced by the team in such a short timeframe, and the compromises that had to be made and where we could do better.
Issues equally on the marketing side: although Uchusen contributed equally to others in the co-sponsorship deal, the Uchusen logo printed on the side of the prototype was so small as not to be visible, and didn’t provide the sponsorship presence we expected. The video setup was also suboptimal (tripod is good for stability, but doesn’t allow quick closeups of the gear), the video’s audio was far from ideal (lapel mics anyone?), and then some files got corrupted along the way for good measure… All easy items to lock down much earlier in the process for a smart, professional presentation next time around.