Beginning in 2015, the search for water on the Moon will begin in earnest. Astrobotic Technology Inc., an offshoot of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, aims to launch the Polaris rover on a mission to the northern pole of the Moon.
Astrobotic specializes in developing “robotics technology for planetary missions,” and has finished a prototype. With a drill that can bore a meter deep into the surface of the Moon, it “can operate in a lunar regions characterized by dark, long shadows and a sun that hugs the horizon.”
This prototype will stand in for the finished product, allowing the researchers, scientists, and engineers to tinker and make adjustments. They’ll focus on improving the software, navigation, and vision of the rover.
A number of observations by NASA and other space agencies suggest that there may be large reserves of water ice at the poles of the Moon. These could conceivably be used as “a source of water, fuel, and oxygen for future expeditions.”
Because Polaris will primarily search for water at the Moon’s poles, regions without much sunlight, it won’t be able to use standard solar arrays to replenish its power supplies. Instead, the rover features a trio of larger, vertically arranged panels that are designed to obtain light from low on the horizon, allowing it to operate in areas where sunlight is scarce.
Weighing 150 kg (approximately 330 pounds), Polaris will use two-foot-diameter wheels made out of a tough composite, and a sturdy suspension system, to allow it to bounce around the rough surface of the Moon at a rate of around a foot per second. Five and a half feet tall, seven feet wide, and eight feet long, Polaris is definitely a short/wide kind of droid.
Polaris would launch from Cape Canaveral, mounted on the SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle.