PITTSBURGH, PA – October 8, 2012 – 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, 5 ½ feet tall, 7 feet wide and almost 8 feet long, can move at about a foot a second on 2-foot-diameter wheels. The rover weighs 150 kilograms, or about 330 pounds, and can accommodate a drill and science instruments of up to 70 kilograms, or a bit more than 150 pounds.
Computer vision determines the rover’s position on the Moon with 10ft accuracy. ”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 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 three-mile traverse near the Moon’s north pole.