PITTSBURGH, PA – May 22, 2012 – Astrobotic Technology announced today that fabrication is under way for an ice prospecting robot, Polaris, to be launched to the Moon on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket like the one that successfully lifted off today from Cape Canaveral.
Robot components built thus far include wheels and chassis beams, made from tough composite materials including carbon fiber and kevlar. Stress tests show the two-foot-diameter wheels withstand forces far exceeding those they will experience on the Moon. Video of a test is posted here. Standard rubber tires can’t be used because they would disintegrate in the hard vacuum of the lunar surface as their volatile components evaporated.
Rover software tests demonstrate Polaris’ ability to know its position on the Moon’s surface within 10 feet. This ability is crucial for mapping the Moon for water.
The Polaris robot will be launched in October 2015 on a one-way voyage to a spot near the Moon’s north pole where orbiting probes have found indications of buried ices – water, methane, ammonia, and other potentially useful resources to bring down the cost of lunar development. Polaris is expected to carry NASA-built instruments to measure the depth and richness of the buried ices.
“This third successful Falcon 9 flight confirms that SpaceX has the skills to pull off a revolution in low-cost access to space, one that makes innovative expeditions like ours feasible,” said William “Red” Whittaker, CEO of Astrobotic Technology and founder of the Field Robotics Center at Carnegie Mellon University. “For the first three launches of a new vehicle to be virtually flawless is unusual, and it’s a stunning achievement for one priced so far below existing launchers.”
A Falcon 9 will send the Polaris robot and its lander on a trajectory that intersects the Moon’s orbit. Then the lander fires its thrusters to land within 100 yards of the intended destination. Precision navigation and automatic hazard avoidance during landing will exploit technologies initially developed at Carnegie Mellon for autonomous cars. Dr. Whittaker won the DARPA Urban Challenge for computer-driven cars able to navigate city traffic.