By Andy Choi
Astrobotic Technology has received a NASA contract to validate the efficiency of its polar rover in deploying ice-prospecting payloads for lunar expedition. Space exploration can be made cost-effective as ice generates methane, water, oxygen, and rocket propellant.
In 2009, Astrobotic initiated the development of its lunar excavation robot as part of several NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts. Robot refinements for hauling a drill and instruments supplied by NASA have been included in the new NASA SBIR Phase 3 follow-on contract.
A NASA probe close to the Moon's South Pole and recent lunar-orbiting satellites have identified polar ice made up of carbon monoxide, water, methane, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and more. Identification will be followed by direct drill measurement of the polar ices to evaluate their concentration value.
Maneuvering satellites, long voyage-spacecraft, or Earth-return can be powered by lunar propellants sourced from the ice. Water and oxygen is essential for life support, while other elements prove valuable for energy, fabrication, processes, and habitation.
This four-day Moon expedition will enable the collection of resources from planetary destinations and promote early return on investment (ROI) than other distant targets.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle will be employed by Astrobotic to be used as a spacecraft and robot explorer on a trajectory toward the Moon. The Astrobotic spacecraft will operate based on a technology developed by Dr. William "Red" Whittaker to autonomously navigate through obstacles including large rocks and craters.
Astrobotic has secured $12 M through nine NASA lunar contracts that involve simulation of lunar gravity on Earth and identifying robotic exploration methods across the Moon's volcanic caves.