Solar robot assembled by Carnegie Mellon spinoff might search for fuel on moon
A Carnegie Mellon University spinoff company on Monday debuted a solar-powered robot that it said could transform deep space exploration.
Astrobotic Technology Inc. hopes to launch its prototype, dubbed Polaris, in October 2015 on a lunar mission to drill for potential fuel at the moon's northern pole, where temperatures can reach minus 180 degrees Celsius.
Researchers have long wondered if there is fuel in space and whether the site on the moon could support a depot, said William “Red” Whittaker, CEO and founder of the Field Robotics Center at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute.
Astrobotic hopes Polaris will be able to answer that question.
“The biggest deterrent to exploration is propellant,” said Whittaker. “If you could refuel, you could go anywhere.”
Researchers have much to learn about water ice, he said.
“There's methane and ammonia in it,” Whittaker said. “You can burn it ... but whether those concentrations are usable” remains to be determined.
Some speculate that the amount of gas just under the moon's surface is equivalent to the amount of water in the Great Lakes, Whittaker said.
Astrobotic isn't in space yet. It needs to raise $100 million to $150 million to launch the robot and its lunar lander on a Space X Falcon 9 launch vehicle, said John Thornton, Astrobotic president.
Space X, a private company, launched a rocket from Cape Canaveral on Sunday to resupply the International Space Station.
Polaris has the juice, though: about three times the power of Curiosity, the NASA rover that landed on Mars in August. It uses navigation software developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Three large solar arrays arranged vertically to capture light from low on the horizon power Polaris.
“The light comes straight across. ... The sun never rises overhead on the moon,” Whittaker said.
The solar arrays will generate about 250 watts of electrical power.
Polaris, about 5 1⁄2 feet tall, 7 feet wide and almost 8 feet tall, weighs about 330 pounds. It uses software pioneered in the Carnegie Mellon/NASA-funded Hyperion robot, which keeps track of the rover's position relative to the sun's rays to maximize solar energy.
Astrobotic and Carnegie Mellon have a lot at stake financially.
The Google Lunar X Prize makes a total of $30 million in prizes available to the first privately funded teams to safely land a robot on the surface of the moon, have that robot travel 500 meters over the lunar surface and send video, images and data back to Earth.
Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Reagan shooter Hinckley closer to permanent freedom
- Minnesota tight end Williams hopes to join father as 1st-round pick
- Insider: Lapierre’s play is improved
- For Penguins penalty kill, enough is enough
- Cole overcomes rough start as Pirates sweep Brewers
- Quarterback Tebow expected to sign with Eagles
- Outdoors notebook: Hunters Sharing the Harvest has big year
- Steelers won’t be backed into a corner at NFL Draft
- Pirates notebook: GM sticking to plan with Kang
- Penn State notebook: Offensive line is work in progress
- Pitt football notebook: ‘No. 1 safety’ Mitchell asked to step up