NASA‘s newest rover could help scientists better understand changes in the massive Greenland ice sheet.
Last summer, higher-than-normal temperatures caused surface melting across about 97 percent of the ice sheet.
Scientists expect the robot to detect the layer of the sheet, which is buried beneath two miles of ice, that formed after last year’s extreme melt event.
The space agency plans to test its new prototype robot rover called GROVER, an acronym for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, through June 8, when it sets off from the National Science Foundation’s research station called Summit Camp.
Using a ground-penetrating radar system, the solar-powered robot will study how snow accumulates as it adds layer after layer to the ice sheet over time.
“Robots like GROVER will give us a new tool for glaciology studies,” said Lora Koenig, a glaciologist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and science advisor on the project.
GROVER was built by students who took part in Goddard’s summer engineering boot camps in 2010 and 2011, who told Koenig they wanted to build a rover to help her study snow accumulation on ice sheets.
NASA describes GROVER, which stands nearly two meters tall, as tank-like in appearance. The robot weighs about 383 kilograms and will be able to crawl across the icy terrain at an average speed of two kilometers an hour on a pair of re-purposed snowmobile tracks.
The solar panels mounted on GROVER form an inverted V. This unique configuration allows the panels to collect energy from the sun as well as from sunlight reflected off the ice sheet.
The sun never goes down during the Arctic summer, so GROVER will be able to constantly refuel, allowing it to work longer, gathering more information than perhaps a human riding on a snowmobile.
And, since it’s solely powered by the sun, the rover should operate in the unspoiled polar environment without polluting the air and environment.
GROVER has other advantages. NASA expects to save money since the polar rovers cost less than the aircraft and satellites usually used to gather data.
In June, GROVER will get a partner, another robot called Cool Robot, which was developed at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. NASA says the National Science Foundation-funded rover will be able to tow a variety of instrument packages needed to conduct glaciological and atmospheric sampling studies.
Watch this NASA video to see GROVER in action (NASA)