While a proposed joint European/Russian mission to return a lunar sample from one of the moon's poles will avoid the shadowed craters there, a private sector effort called Polaris is designed to prospect for resources in those regions.
Astrobotic unveils full scale version of Polaris rover/prospector
According to Red Orbit, Polaris, built by a private company named Astrobotic, is a rover measuring 5 1/2 feet high, seven feet wide, and eight feet long. It has the ability to carry 150 pounds of payload, including a drill designed to penetrate the lunar surface within the permanently shadowed craters at the moon's poles in search of ice. The rover is robust, built of high-tech alloys, with composite wheels and a suspension that allows it to move across the lunar surface at one foot per second.
Power a problem
Polaris, like most rovers of its type, is solar powered. This would present a problem for its operating in the shadowed regions of lunar craters, where sunlight doesn't penetrate. Red Orbit reports that this problem is addressed by making Polaris' solar arrays large and vertically deployed to catch as much sunlight as possible. Special software has been written to track the rover's position and allow it to adjust its solar array accordingly.
Polaris' other features
Astrobotic lists a number of other features for its Polaris rover. It has an autonomous obstacle avoidance system that allows it to operate autonomously. It will carry a laser 3D mapping system, 3D high definition cameras, a 4X telephoto zoom camera, and a direct to Earth communications system. It also has a passive thermal control system.
Polaris's mission plan
The launch date for Polaris has yet to be determined, according to Red Orbit. But when it does launch, its mission has been planned for a 10-day, three-mile trek across the lunar surface, drilling between 10 and 100 core samples. If the Polaris survives the lunar night, its mission could be extended, in theory, indefinitely.
Astrobotic is a company developing a number of rovers and landers for affordable access to celestial bodies like the moon. Its Red Rover is proposed as a entrant in the Google Lunar X Prize, which awards $20 million for the first private company to land an instrument package on the lunar surface and perform certain tasks.
Why lunar ice is important
According to a March 2012 piece in Space.com, ice in craters in the lunar poles accumulated over billions of years can not only be used to facilitate a lunar base, but can be refined into rocket fuel, thus making the moon a refueling depot for spacecraft venturing deeper into the Solar System.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.