Monday, October 8, 2012

Astrobotic unveils Polaris lunar rover design

Astrobotic's Polaris prospects for water at the lunar poles. With 3 vertical solar panels generating 250 watts and two radiator panels to shed excess heat, the Polaris design features stereo cameras and laser sensors to create 3-D video and digital models its surroundings. The robot communicates directly with Earth using a directional S-band antenna. Polaris will carry up to 70 kg in payload, i.e., core drill and science instruments to identify water content. Polaris is capable of autonomously traversal of permanently shadowed areas and will be equipped with variable height suspension for clearance or drilling angles. The suspension will maintains four-wheel ground contact without springs [Astrobotic Technologies, Inc.].
John Thornton

Astrobotic today announced completion of a prototype lunar prospecting rover, Polaris, to search for water ice at the Moon's poles.  The rover will prospect for water, oxygen, methane, and other volatiles which could be useful for energy, supporting life, and producing rocket fuel.  "This rover is a first step toward using off-Earth resources to further human exploration of our solar system," said John Thornton, President. 

Polaris is specialized for drilling at the Moon's pole which is characterized by low glancing sun angles and operation near shadowed regions that can reach cryogenic temperatures.  The rover is tall enough to deploy a 4ft drill and produce 250W of power with solar panels oriented toward the Sun, which stays just above above the horizon.

Polaris, 1.63 meters wide and 2.4 meters long, can move at 30 cm a second on 60 cm-diameter wheels.  The rover weighs 150 kg, and will accommodate a drill and science instruments of up to 70 kilograms.

Computer vision determines the rover's position on the Moon within 3 meters. "It's game changing for lunar surface exploration and we're the ones to pursue it," said William "Red" Whittaker, CEO.  Without GPS, Polaris will match surface pictures with satellite imagery taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to determine its location on the Moon.

The rover features wheels and chassis beams constructed of light, tough composite materials.   The lighter structural materials minimize overall weight while accommodating the heavy drill and massive batteries required for this mission.

Astrobotic has won nine lunar contracts from NASA worth $3.6 million, including one to evaluate how Polaris can accommodate NASA’s ice-prospecting instruments during a 5k traverse near the Moon’s north pole.

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