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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Astrobotic Prospector to the Moon in 2015

Astrobotic's Polaris lunar rover is slated to prospect for potentially rich deposits of water ice, methane and other resources at the moon's north pole in three years.
Astrobotic Technology Inc. announced a NASA contract last week to determine whether its polar rover can deploy an ice-prospecting payload to the Moon. The ice could yield water, oxygen, methane and rocket propellant to dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration.

“Astrobotic seeks the immense resources available on the Moon to both accelerate space exploration and improve life on Earth,” said David Gump, president. “The lunar path is near term. We intend a prospecting mission in 2015.”

Recent lunar-orbiting satellites from several nations, and a NASA probe that impacted near the Moon’s south pole, have sensed polar ice composed of water, methane, ammonia, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and other substances. These polar resources went undiscovered during the Apollo expeditions which landed near the equator. The next step is to drill and measure the polar ices directly to see if they are sufficiently concentrated to be useful.

Lunar propellant derived from the ice could fuel spacecraft for long voyages, Earth-return, or maneuvering satellites. Water and oxygen would be invaluable for life support. Other elements have immense value for energy, processes, fabrication and habitation. When seeking resources from planetary destinations, the four-day travel time to reach the Moon enables early return on investment compared to more distant targets.

Lunar Polaris rover will ride Falcon 9
Astrobotic has reserved a Falcon 9 launch vehicle made by SpaceX to send its spacecraft and robot explorer on a trajectory toward the Moon in October of 2015. The Astrobotic spacecraft will deliver the prospector to the lunar surface with technology that autonomously avoids landing hazards such as large rocks and craters. The navigation system is derived from technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University under Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, Astrobotic’s founder.

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