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Water-Prospecting Lunar Rover Prototype Built

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the now-let's-make-it-self-replicating dept.

Moon 36

Zothecula writes "Astrobotic Technology Inc., a spin-off company of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), has debuted its full-size flight prototype of its Polaris lunar water-prospecting robot. Polaris is specially designed to work in the permanently shadowed craters at the Moon's poles. Scheduled to be sent to the Moon using a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle, the solar-powered rover is a contender in the US$20 million Google Lunar X Prize and is tasked with seeking ice deposits that could be used by future colonists."

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So... (1)

tomalok (33171) | about 2 years ago | (#41601171)

If it's solar powered, how's it going to work in the permanently shadowed craters?

Re:So... (4, Funny)

sconeu (64226) | about 2 years ago | (#41601203)

Duh. It's going to use the photocells to power a light aimed at the photocells!

Re:So... (1)

citab (1677284) | about 2 years ago | (#41601909)

Mirrors, it's all done with mirrors ... all the sunlight you want.

Re:So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41602055)

Just make it nuke powered and stop all the drama over solar.

Re:So... (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 2 years ago | (#41605089)

The problem is, that we do not have the fuel. Not currently. That is just plain stupid. Sadly, CONgress is battling over it. The republicans want NASA to spend the money to do the breeder for it, while the dems want DOE to do it.
Later, I suspect that Republicans will simply push to buy it from China.

Re:So... (3, Interesting)

wolf1oo (1732258) | about 2 years ago | (#41603619)

When they say permanently shadowed, they mean from directly above. I have seen the rover (I attend CMU), it has solar cells that face toward the horizon, to capture the small amount of energy that comes over the side. Apparently it works pretty well and efficiently, or so they say :)

How heavy is the rover ? (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#41604037)

it has solar cells that face toward the horizon, to capture the small amount of energy that comes over the side

May I know what's the mass of the rover?
 
Is the "small amount of energy" captured by the solar cell enough to power the movement of the rover?
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

 

Re:How heavy is the rover ? (1)

wolf1oo (1732258) | about 2 years ago | (#41608289)

I'm not sure of the actual mass, they never mentioned it last time I saw them, but they did say that the rover could be operating for a large portion of the "day" on the moon.

It has a footprint of about 7 feet by 12 feet, give or take a foot in each. Two reasonably strong men were able to lift up one end of it when they were positioning it for a movement demo, so it can't be too massive...

A bright idea? (0)

internet-redstar (552612) | about 2 years ago | (#41601197)

Another bright idea to put solar panels in the 'permanently shadowed craters'? Way to go! Physics 101!

Re:A bright idea? (4, Informative)

multiben (1916126) | about 2 years ago | (#41601289)

Since your clicking finger may be broken, here is a relevant section of the article to help you out:

To find the ice, a rover thus must operate as close to the dark poles as possible, but not so far that it can't use solar arrays for power, Whittaker said. Polaris thus has three large solar arrays, arranged vertically to capture light from low on the horizon. The solar arrays will be capable of an average of 250 watts of electrical power.

Funny how they did actually consider this before designing a multi-million dollar robot. It looks like maybe they did complete Physics 101.

Re:A bright idea? (4, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 2 years ago | (#41601337)

*tweet*

Internet Foul, on the Defense, Reading the Article and Thinking for More Than 4 Seconds. 15 Karma point penalty. Repeat First Post.

Re:A bright idea? (1)

internet-redstar (552612) | about 2 years ago | (#41601487)

Point taken... Zothecula's summary is however misleading, and it still will remain to be seen if this thing will be able to survive the lunar night ;)

Damn, there goes my carefully generated karma...

Re:A bright idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41601415)

Let's test whether there's ice in the permanently-shadowed parts of the Moon using solar power! Um, wait, that won't work. So, let's test the areas that aren't permanently-shadowed, but that are close to them?

Either way you look at it, it doesn't make a lot of sense, because in the latter case it isn't much of a test.

Re:A bright idea? (1)

Vylen (800165) | about 2 years ago | (#41601291)

To find the ice, a rover thus must operate as close to the dark poles as possible, but not so far that it can't use solar arrays for power, Whittaker said. Polaris thus has three large solar arrays, arranged vertically to capture light from low on the horizon. The solar arrays will be capable of an average of 250 watts of electrical power.

So, I guess it'll be in craters that are shadowed by the depth of the walls of the crater, but by not too deep of a crater so as long as the panels are taller than them?

Uhhh (1)

inexia (977449) | about 2 years ago | (#41601303)

I initially read that as a waterboarding rover...

radiation contamination (1)

dimko (1166489) | about 2 years ago | (#41601307)

I was wondering, how are they gonna use this water? Moon has no atmosphere, i am guessing place is HEAVILLY radiated. What this water can be used for?

Re:radiation contamination (1)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#41602345)

It's actually much worse than this. The moon is basically a radiation nightmare. In addition to all the solar radiation from above (in the form of corona mass ejections), you've apparently got lots from below you as well (thorium and uranium in the crust).

I think most folks are thinking about using the water to make hydrogen (for rocket fuel) and for industrial purposes (e.g., thermal pumps, etc). Drinking water will likely be mostly closed-loop (not unlike how they do it on the ISS).

Re:radiation contamination (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41603307)

Shhhh! You'll upset the Space Nutters! Their delicate constitution forbids too much reality. Quick! Put on some Star Trek!

Re:radiation contamination (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41607129)

You seem to grasp at straws more so than the caricatures you try to fight against. How quixotic, since it is so easy to stick simple economic arguments against space exploration instead of latching on to any baseless statement you come across.

Re:radiation contamination (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41604563)

Do you happen to have any citations for the radioactive content of lunar rock and soil? Estimates I've seen for radiation levels on the surface of the moon have shown cosmic and solar sources dominating, with the lunar rock working well for shielding and not producing much on its own (or at least comparable to rock on Earth).

Re:radiation contamination (1)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#41609857)

The only information that I know about is here...

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2005/08sep_radioactivemoon/ [nasa.gov]

Out in deep space, radiation comes from all directions. On the Moon, you might expect the ground, at least, to provide some relief, with the solid body of the Moon blocking radiation from below. Not so.

When galactic cosmic rays collide with particles in the lunar surface, they trigger little nuclear reactions that release yet more radiation in the form of neutrons. The lunar surface itself is radioactive!

So which is worse for astronauts: cosmic rays from above or neutrons from below? Igor Mitrofanov, a scientist at the Institute for Space Research and the Russian Federal Space Agency, Moscow, offers a grim answer: "Both are worse."

They are attempting to quantify this effect with CRaTER [harvard.edu] or Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation. Basically, the CRaTER instrument is aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (which is currently orbiting the Moon). However, I haven't seen any specific reports on their findings on their official website http://crater.sr.unh.edu/ [unh.edu] , press reports [msn.com] indicate that initial finding aren't good...

In a surprising discovery, scientists have found that the moon itself is a source of potentially deadly radiation.

Measurements taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show that the number of high energy particles streaming in from space did not tail off closer to the moon's surface, as would be expected with the body of the moon blocking half the sky.

Rather, the cosmic rays created a secondary — and potentially more dangerous -- shower by blasting particles in the lunar soil which then become radioactive.

"The moon is a source of radiation," said Boston University researcher Harlan Spence, the lead scientist for LRO's cosmic ray telescope. "This was a bit unexpected."

While the moon blocks galactic cosmic rays to some extent, the hazards posed by the secondary radiation showers counter the shielding effects, Spence said at a press conference at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco this week.

Re:radiation contamination (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41616109)

Thanks for the information. Although that sounds a little different than high concentrations of uranium or thorium, and might mean the radiation is depth dependent as the majority of cosmic rays only penetrate so far. Plus activated isotopes may be much shorter lived. Showers from cosmic rays are pretty well understood on Earth, and it shouldn't be that hard to extrapolate to the materials on the Moon. It almost sounds like they are saying the shielding effect is canceled out if you are standing on the surface, but burying a structure underneath lunar soil might still be an option (e.g. the radiation from the top few cm of soil going back into space might be just as strong as what comes in from space which is relevant to their observations, but would still be blocked by tens of cm of soil).

The dimensions are incredible (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41601321)

Polaris is five and a half feet (1.67 m) high, seven feet (2.13 m) wide, about eight feet (2.43 m) long and weighs 150 pounds (68.03 kg). In addition to its own weight, it can carry another 150 pounds as well as the weight of a drill.

Only 150 lbs for such a large rover, and it can carry all of that weight? That's pretty impressive.

(Yes, I know 150lbs won't amount to much on the Moon. I'm still impressed)

Re:The dimensions are incredible (2)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 years ago | (#41601429)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_versus_weight [wikipedia.org] It would be wise to refer to the mass of objects being deployed to other planets/moons by mass, not weight.

Re:The dimensions are incredible (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 2 years ago | (#41602555)

The pound is also a unit of mass [wikipedia.org] .

Fucking Imperial system, am I right?

Re:The dimensions are incredible (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 years ago | (#41603285)

Burn it all I say, long live the metric system. The Discovery channel just makes it worse, mixing imperial units and SI units depending on which one gives the biggest number for the highest "wow factor". Lets all use kilometers and Fahrenheit!

Re:The dimensions are incredible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41606515)

Yeah, the metric system would never invent something like the kilopond.

Re:The dimensions are incredible (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 2 years ago | (#41606625)

Nothing wrong with having a unit of force that is related to your unit of mass and earth gravity. The problem is having a unit that is overloaded to be both weight in earth gravity and mass because the unit predates the understanding that there is a difference and so to this day is used interchangeably and without qualification in both cases.

It's subtle, I know. Wait, no, it isn't.

Re:The dimensions are incredible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41608993)

When the kilogram was developed, the distinction between mass and weight was still a practical mess. The original decree defining the gram did so as the weight of water. Even when some of that stuff got straightened out, there was still common use of a mix of kilogram and kilogram-force. It wasn't until about a little over a hundred years ago that got sorted out, at the same time for both kgf/kgm and lbm/lbf, by defining a standard gravity to be used.

Also, the conceptual distinction between mass and weight doesn't seem to be clear up by just units for most people... I've seen way too many students try to use newtons and kilograms both interchangeably for forces and masses when still learning things.

Re:The dimensions are incredible (1)

bbecker23 (1917560) | about 2 years ago | (#41602353)

(Yes, I know 150lbs won't amount to much on the Moon. I'm still impressed)

It'll amount to the same weight on the moon as on Earth. Granted, it'll take much more mass to get up to the weight. If it can haul 150lbs here, it can do the same anywhere.

Just curious... (2)

eexaa (1252378) | about 2 years ago | (#41601349)

Somewhere I read that there's little chance to find any good source of water on a planet (or other rock-ball type) without a magnetic field, because that is the only thing that prevents massive hydrogen/water molecules loss from upper parts of the atmosphere caused by solar winds. Therefore, Earth has water, other planets have only uninteresting amounts of it.

Maybe there are (ice) deposits from the time the planets (moon) had the magnetic field? Can anyone clarify?

Re:Just curious... (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 years ago | (#41601527)

Neptune has a significant amount of water, as do some of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

The lack of liquid water on the surfaces of planets and moons is due to most being too cold and hence covered in ice or lacking a significant atmosphere and not having enough pressure for water to remain liquid.

We've explored exactly zero other planets so far . (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41601571)

Big assumptions in that.

One thing both the moon and mars do have is lots of dust, not only is dust an insulator, but water tends to stick to surfaces lowering the rate at which it'll move into the atmosphere. Once it hits the atmosphere, yes, it'll tend to get stripped by solar winds. However the initial quantities of water, the rate at which water ends up in the atmosphere and the rate of redeposition (particularly of hydrogen) are still unknowns.

come again? (2)

kimvette (919543) | about 2 years ago | (#41604207)

Polaris is specially designed to work in the permanently shadowed craters at the Moon's poles. Scheduled to be sent to the Moon using a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle, the solar-powered rover is a contender in the US$20 million Google Lunar X Prize

What could possibly go wrong?

Awesome! (1)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about 2 years ago | (#41612599)

I can't wait for billions of my taxes to be spent finding water on the moon because we all know our economy is strong and infallible, humans have no disease or global strife, and the government is sitting flush with money just wasting away doing nothing because our education and healthcare are all top notch.

I hope one day soon scientists are going to find water on another moon or planet and be so happy they have never wasted one taxpayer dollar doing so.

I am also stoked for a new season of Sarcastaball to get started!

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