June 14, 2013
Astrobotics is a relatively new company founded in 2008 that plans to be the first private company to send a rover and lander to the moon. When we arrived at Astrobotics, which is in the cultural district of Pittsburgh, John Thornton, the president of Astrobotic greeted the Academies and showed them their rover, Polaris, which is able to scoop up moon dirt and also drill into the moon’s ice. After showing the Academites the rover, John gave an overview presentation of Astrobotic and their goal to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE challenge. Basically, Astrobotic wants to take Polaris and safely land it on the moon, traverse 500 m of the moon terrain, and send pictures and data back to Earth. That’s the challenge details. Astrobotic wants to do more by looking into the vast cave networks that are underneath the moon’s surface. Currently, Astrobotic is the primary payload for the Space X Falcon 9 launch near the end of 2015. They hope to have a critical design done within the year and then assembly and integration for the next year and a half so that they finish six months before launch. After John, Kevin gave the Academites an overview of the guidance and navigation controls and analysis and Steven talked about the “skylights” on the moon. After the presentation, Annie took the Academites Carnegie Mellon University to see the lab that Astrobotic is working with.
At Carnegie Mellon, the Academites were introduced to the robotics lab where inexpensive robotic boats are being built, a 3D laser scanning robot was scanning the group, and they were given a brief overview of the quad-rotor project. The group then moved to another lab where two students showed them the other half of the X PRIZE project, the lander. It was pretty large and had four golden spheres that were models for the fuel tanks and oxygen tanks that will eventually fit into the lander. After touring that lab, the Academites were taken to the home of “Ballbot,” a robot that moves around on a single sphere and stands to human size. It can be pushed around and will maintain balance while also receiving path commands from the computer. It also has speakers to “communicate” with humans. Ballbot uses a Linux kinect system and a laser scanner to map the surroundings but the group was told not to move because Ballbot took them in as part of the stationary environment.