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Surprising Science

Robot To Go Looking For Water On The Moon

A company has completed a prototype of a robot designed specifically to look for lunar ice, a potentially rich source of water and other materials for use during other lunar expeditions.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

Astrobotic Technology, a Carnegie Mellon University spinoff company, has created a full-size prototype of Polaris, a robot designed to search for ice at the moon’s poles. The company and university are competing together to win the Google Lunar X Prize, which will award over $20 million to the first team to build a robot that will successfully land on, explore, and return data about the lunar surface. Because Polaris has the same configuration as a rover, it can actually travel to the moon, bringing with it lunar drilling technology that was originally incapable of leaving the earth.

What’s the Big Idea?

Polaris will be part of an expedition to the moon’s northern pole, which, based on past observations by NASA and others, could contain large amounts of ice. For future expeditions involving the moon, that ice could be a rich source of water, fuel and energy. Because the pole does not receive much sun, the robot uses solar arrays that allow it to capture tangential light from low on the horizon, as well as software that optimizes and conserves that energy when traveling in dark regions. Polaris’ construction includes aerospace-quality materials that the team hopes will allow it to survive not just the trip, but the long cold lunar nights.

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