Astrobotic Technology Reveals Robot Design To Survive Moon's Extreme Heat

For the company vying for the Google Lunar X Prize, it's all about keeping the (robot's) head cool

2 min read
Astrobotic Technology Reveals Robot Design To Survive Moon's Extreme Heat

astrobotic rover

astrobotic rover

Exactly 40 years ago, a human-made artifact touched down on the moon. Today, a space technology company unveiled the machine they hope will replicate the feat.

Or at least the machine's latest version. Astrobotic Technology, in Pittsburgh, is developing a lunar robot, which they hope to put on the moon sometime in 2011.

Spectrum wrote about Astrobotic's efforts, led by famed Carnegie Mellon roboticist William "Red" Whittaker, in our Mars special issue. The article described how Red and his team plan to win the US $20 million Google Lunar X Prize by being the first to land a robot on the moon and beam back photos and video.

Their robot is going through several design iterations, and the version revealed today addresses a hot topic, so to speak: the robot's ability to survive the scorching temperatures of the moon's equator -- over 130 degrees Celsius at local noon.

How will it do that? David Gump, the company's president, explains:

The robot beats the heat by keeping a cool side aimed away from the Sun to radiate heat off to the black sky. It travels toward or away from the sun (generally east or west) without turning its radiator into the light. Only the solar cells on the hot side ever face the sun. The robot can travel north and south by tacking like a sailboat.


The fundamental innovation developed at Carnegie Mellon is the rover’s asymmetrical shape. On the cold side, there’s a flat radiator angled up to the black lunar sky as well as a vertical panel for the logos of the corporations sponsoring the expedition. On the hot side, a half-cone of solar cells generates ample electrical power to power the wheels, run the computers and energize the transmitter beaming back stereo HD video to Earth.

Pretty cool, uh?

Launch is scheduled for May 2011, and the robot is expected to explore the site of the Apollo 11 landing, which I'm sure will make for some exciting videos of flags, footsteps, and more. (By the way, if you're wondering, the Apollo 11 crew left before local noon, so Armstrong and Aldrin didn't have to worry about the extreme heat.)

Check out the photos above. Doesn't the side view look like a ... high-tech baby stoller?

Photos: Astrobotic Technology

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