A prototype of GROVER, minus its solar panels, was tested in January 2012 at a ski resort in Idaho. (Credit: CBS/Boise State University, Gabriel Trisca)
The next NASA mission is not to Saturn, Venus or even the moon. The space agency is taking a staycation on Earth, and headed to Greenland where scientists are hoping to find out more about the country's massive ice sheet and its surrounding frosty landscape.
The rover making the trek has been nicknamed GROVER, which stands for both "Greenland Rover" and "Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research." This new rover is set to be on the ground at the highest point of the ice-locked country from May 3 to June 8, 2013.
The machine itself is solar powered and can be controlled from anywhere around the world, making it autonomous. The ability to feed on solar power, both from the sun and from the sunlight bouncing off the ice, means that it can operate in the polar environment without creating any type of pollution.
The rover will also come equipped with ground-penetrating radar that will be able to calculate how the snow has accumulated over time and contributed to the ice sheet. The rover's technology is cheaper than the typical combination of satellites, aircraft and snowmobiles used to monitor these glacial patterns, making it a good option for researchers.
"Robots like GROVER will give us a new tool for glaciology studies," Lora Koenig, a glaciologist at Goddard and science adviser, on the project said in a statement.
NASA's foray into glacial studies comes after the 2012 report that 97 percent of the ice sheet's surface was melting due to higher than normal temperatures.
Developed three years ago, GROVER stands six feet tall, weighs 800 pounds and is able to glide across the ice on repurposed snowmobile tracks.
"We think it's really powerful," Gabriel Trisca, a Boise State master's degree student who developed GROVER's software said in a statement. "The fact is the robot could be anywhere in the world and we'll be able to control it from anywhere."
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