Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Astrobiotic unveils Polaris high-latitude explorer

Polaris prospects for water at the lunar poles. One of three lunar rover designs by Astrobotics Technology, Polaris has three vertical solar panels to generate 250 watts of power and two radiator panels to rid itself of excess heat. Stereo cameras and laser are used to guide Polaris and generate 3-D video and models of the lunar surface. The robot communicates directly with Earth using a pointed S-band antenna to receive commands and send video and data. Polaris carries up to 175 lbs (80kg) of payload, such as a drill to take core samples and science instruments to identify water content. Polaris is capable of driving and avoiding obstacles autonomously including traverses into dark regions in the lunar pole’s long shadows. Polaris suspension includes raise and lower capability to vary chassis ground clearance to lower for drilling and raise for driving on rough terrain. The suspension maintains four-wheel ground contact over sloped and rocky lunar terrain without the use of springs. Surface operations are carefully preplanned to maintain unobstructed views of the sun for power and the earth for communication. View the full-size artist concept HERE [Astrobotic Technology/CMU].

Pittsburgh / CMU - Astrobotic Technology unveiled its new Polaris lunar rover design, which will prospect for potentially rich deposits of water ice, methane and other resources at the moon's north pole in three years.

A powerful Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX will launch Polaris from Cape Canaveral in late October 2015. Four days later Polaris will land during north pole summer, when patches of ground that are in cold shadow most of the year get brief illumination. This is where ice will be found closest to the surface, and when a solar-powered robot will get the sunlight needed to sustain exploration. Polaris will search for ice for the next 12 days until sundown in early November.

Polaris carries up to 175 lbs (80kg) of payload, such as a drill and instruments to analyze samples from the drill. To find the best spot to drill, two sensors will look for signs of hidden ice beneath the surface layer of dry soil. A neutron spectrometer will measure the number of neutrons given off by the first yard of soil beneath the rover; a dip in the reading indicates neutrons coming in from space are being absorbed by hydrogen (in water or methane) in ice beneath the robot. A near infrared spectrometer will look for variations in surface temperature that may hint at ice below.

Polaris is adapted from a lunar excavation machine that Astrobotic has been prototyping under a NASA contract granted in 2010. After Polaris and other prospecting robots find the highest ice concentrations, excavation robots will remove the covering layer of dry soil to recover the ices and deliver them to a plant that turns them into rocket propellant.

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