Friday, May 3, 2013

NASA Rover GROVER: Prototype Set to Explore Greenland Ice Sheet

The tank-like GROVER prototype stands six feet tall, including its solar panels. 

It weighs about 800 pounds and traverses the ice on two repurposed snowmobile tracks. 

The robot is powered entirely by solar energy, so it can operate in pristine polar environments without adding to air pollution. 

The panels are mounted in an inverted V, allowing them to collect energy from the sun and sunlight reflected off the ice sheet.

NASA's newest scientific rover is set for testing May 3 through June 8 in the highest part of Greenland.

The robot known as GROVER, which stands for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, will roam the frigid landscape collecting measurements to help scientists better understand changes in the massive ice sheet.

This autonomous, solar-powered robot carries a ground-penetrating radar to study how snow accumulates, adding layer upon layer to the ice sheet over time.

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Greenland's surface layer vaulted into the news in summer 2012 when higher than normal temperatures caused surface melting across about 97 percent of the ice sheet.

Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., expect GROVER to detect the layer of the ice sheet that formed in the aftermath of that extreme melt event.

Research with polar rovers costs less than aircraft or satellites, the usual platforms.

Lora Koenig
"Robots like GROVER will give us a new tool for glaciology studies," said Lora Koenig, a glaciologist at Goddard and science advisor on the project.

GROVER will be joined on the ice sheet in June by another robot, named Cool Robot, developed at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., with funding from the National Science Foundation.

This rover can tow a variety of instrument packages to conduct glaciological and atmospheric sampling studies.

GROVER was developed in 2010 and 2011 by teams of students participating in summer engineering boot camps at Goddard.

The students were interested in building a rover and approached Koenig about whether a rover could aid her studies of snow accumulation on ice sheets.

This information typically is gathered by radars carried on snowmobiles and airplanes. Koenig suggested putting a radar on a rover for this work.

Hans-Peter Marshall
Koenig, now a science advisor on the GROVER Project, asked Hans-Peter Marshall, a glaciologist at Boise State University to bring in his expertise in small, low-power, autonomous radars that could be mounted on GROVER.

Since its inception at the boot camp, GROVER has been fine-tuned, with NASA funding, at Boise State.

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