Astrobotic Technology is developing a rover that operates on solar energy provided with side-facing panels. The solar panels are set vertically because the rover will operate at the lunar poles where the sun appears closer to the horizon.
Artist concept courtesy of Astrobotic Technology

Robotic explorers may usher in lunar ‘water rush’

November 18, 2012 by Steven Siceloff

(—The American space program stands at the cusp of a “water rush” to the moon by several companies developing robotic prospectors for launch in the near future, according to a NASA scientist considering how to acquire and use water ice believed to be at the poles of the moon.

“This is like the gold rush that led to the settlement of California,” said Phil Metzger, a physicist who leads the Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations Lab, part of Kennedy’s Surface Systems Office. “This is the water rush.”

Collecting the water, or at least showing it can be collected, is where the Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology comes in. The small company signed on in April for the third phase of a Small Business Innovative Research deal that continues research work to develop technologies NASA may need to harvest space resources in the future.

The company already is far along in its development of a rover that will work on its own. There is a deal in place with SpaceX to launch a lander and rover on a Falcon 9 rocket in October 2015. Astrobotic is competing against several other companies for the Google Lunar X-Prize, an award worth up to $30 million funded by the Internet search engine company.

“Our intent is to land on the surface of the moon in October 2015 and find water,” said John Thornton, president of Astrobotic.

Water already on asteroids, the moon or Martian moons represent a potential bonanza to NASA’s exploration plans because the resource can be put to use in so many critical ways for astronauts venturing into deep space. Water, made of hydrogen and oxygen molecules, can be turned into everything from breathing air to rocket fuel, not to mention the chance to filter it clean and drink it.

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