NASA testing earthbound rover to study Greenland's ice sheet

Credit: NASA

NASA is preparing to test its latest rover tomorrow. Like its predecessors, GROVER will be expected to survive a hostile environment unattended for months at a time, while scientists communicate with it sporadically. But unlike Curiosity or Opportunity, the six-foot-tall, 800-pound GROVER won't be relaying information back from space. It will be earthbound, traversing Greenland to study its massive ice sheet.

The first question though is whether GROVER — short for Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research — can survive the harsh, frozen conditions. If the tests in Greenland go well, GROVER will spend the summer there, collecting measurements to understand changes to the ice sheet.

GROVER got its start in the summers of 2010 and 2011 as part of NASA's engineering boot camps at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The students wanted to build a robot and asked NASA glaciologist Lora Koenig, now an adviser on the GROVER Project, if a rover could aid her studies.

Greenland's surface layer had experienced severe melting across 97 percent of the ice sheet in the summer of 2012 due to rising temperatures, and scientists are now hoping to use GROVER to detect the layer that formed as a result. Currently, collecting such data required using radars on snowmobiles, airplanes or satellites. Though GROVER can only travel at 1.2 miles per hour, the solar-powered robot can operate all day because the sun doesn't set during the arctic summer. GROVER's radar will send radio wave pulses into the ice sheet and relay characteristics of the snow and ice layers back to scientists.

At the beginning of NASA's tests, which will last until June 8, GROVER will stay within a three-mile range of the camp, transmitting data via Wi-Fi. Eventually, GROVER will relay information in real time using satellite communication, which will also allow it to roam farther.


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