Abstract for the April 25, 1997 Robotics Institute Seminar

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Icebreaker - A Lunar South Pole Exploring Robot

Representatives from the Mobile Robot Design Class
Robotics Institute
Carnegie Mellon University

New findings suggest that ice may exist in permanently shadowed areas of the Moon. Visual and radar data confirm that the lunar poles harbor "cold traps" never warmed by the Sun, and that a large basin of permanent darkness spans the Moon's south pole. A surface mission to obtain samples is the only way to determine ice distribution and composition. The discovery and quantification of water and other volatiles on the Moon will serve to shape our understanding of the Moon's history. Areas with almost permanent light exist adjacent to these permanently dark areas possibly providing opportunities for lunar stations to process water ice or other volatiles in the cold traps. This region has been called "the most valuable real estate in the solar system", because of its possibility to alter the course of manned space exploration. Thus, while illuminating the past, a lunar ice discovery mission will forge a path for the future, helping to cast the role of the Moon in our exploration of the planets.

The Robotics Institute has an active proposal to send an exploring robot to the lunar south pole. The Mobile Robot Design class has been investigating the technical issues and configuring Icebreaker, a combined lander/rover that will land on its wheels on the lunar surface and be immediately ready to explore cold traps. Icebreaker will land in a world with long shadows where the Sun never rises more than 2 degrees above the horizon. In addition to handling low sun angles, its surface operational capabilities are designed to deal with communication losses that occur as the Earth, its home base, oscillates above and below the horizon during the lunar orbit. It will bask in light for power and travel into permanent shadow to perform sampling. Icebreaker will carry millimeter wave radar for safeguarding and a drill which will probe ice strata and analyze these samples using a furnace and mass spectrometer.

Last Modified on: Mon Apr 21, 1997

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Martin C. Martin, <mm+@cmu.edu>