UK-based space engineer Dr Yang Gao of the Surrey Space Centre is to develop a new generation of lunar rovers with one of China’s top engineers, funded by The Royal Academy of Engineering. The project will pave the way for future moon shots such as the UK’s proposed Moonraker lander mission and the second phase of China’s Chang’e programme.

Dr Gao, originally from Singapore, is Lecturer in Space Autonomy at the Surrey Space Centre of the University of Surrey and Head of the Autonomy Research Group. She will be working with Associate Professor Hehua Ju of the Beijing University of Technology on one of the first projects supported by The Royal Academy of Engineering’s new Research Exchanges with China and India scheme.

Dr Gao and Professor Ju will both spend six months working at each other’s universities, investigating onboard guidance, navigation and control systems for a lunar rover that allows the rover to operate autonomously. One challenge is to develop robust stereo vision systems with precision of centimetres and can cope with the bright sunlight owing to the moon’s thin atmosphere. They will also investigate autonomous functions crucial to a lunar mission. Part of their plan is to establish a remote control station in Surrey to operate during field tests in China of a latest lunar rover prototype.

China’s Chang’e programme, named after an angel in a Chinese legend who drinks a magic potion and flies to the moon, successfully launched its lunar orbiter Chang’e 1 in November 2007. China’s National Space Agency plans a robotic lander and rover mission as the second phase in 2012.

Dr. Gao is delighted to receive this Research Exchange Award. She says “This award is prestigious and valuable to us. It provides an excellent opportunity for researchers of the UK and China to exchange expertises and build up long-term relationship. The collaboration will help to generate key robotic technologies for future lunar explorations, which are of major interest to both parties.” Dr. Gao also suggests that the award puts UK researchers in a good position to meet opportunities in the Chinese Chang’e programme. Prof Ju expresses his gratitude for the Academy’s support and says “We are determined to keep a close, long-term link with Dr. Gao’s group in developing lunar rover technologies and look forward to future exchange activities.”

Professor Colin McInnes, Director of Research at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde and a Fellow of The Royal Academy of Engineering, says “This is a truly excellent project – China has long-term ambitions for a lunar rover, while Surrey has a key role in the UK’s emerging lunar exploration aspirations. I have no doubt that this will prime a long-term collaboration between China and the UK in a high profile and important field of engineering.”

Notes for editors

  1. For more biographical details for Dr Gao see
  2. China and India are rapidly emerging as important global economies. Engineers have played a key role in contributing towards this economic and social development. The continued sustainable growth is therefore dependent on harnessing the knowledge and skills provided by an expanding engineering base. The Academy’s Research Exchanges with China and India scheme aims to promote collaboration between high quality academic engineering researchers in the UK and China/India and facilitate the expansion of Networks of Excellence in engineering research.

    The scheme will provide funding to allow academic engineering researchers at UK Higher Education Institutions to travel to a Chinese or Indian academic Institution, and academic researchers based in China/India to spend time at a UK Institution. Two types of award are available. Short Awards support visits lasting up to one month. These visits are primarily for networking and exploring joint research projects. Major Awards support visits of 3-12 months and should be part of longer-term efforts to build UK-China/India partnerships.
  3. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – including the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering tel. 020 7766 0636


Peter La at the University of Surrey
tel. 01483 689191