Defying 30 mph gusts and temperatures down to -22 °F, NASA’s new polar rover recently demonstrated that it could operate completely autonomously in one of Earth’s harshest environments.
The robot known as GROVER, which stands for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, was designed by teams of students attending engineering boot camps at Goddard in the summers of 2010 and 2011. Built to carry a ground-penetrating radar to analyze layers of snow and ice, the rover was later transferred to Boise State University for fine-tuning with NASA funding.
Although researchers had tested GROVER at a beach in Maryland and in the snow in Idaho, the May 6 to June 8 testing at Summit Camp, the highest spot in Greenland, was the rover’s first polar experience. One of the main goals was proving that the robot could execute commands sent from afar over an Iridium satellite connection – an objective GROVER accomplished.
GROVER’s radar emits a signal that bounces off the different layers of the ice sheet, allowing scientists to study how snow and ice accumulates in Greenland. The team wanted to check whether the robot could see a layer in the ice sheet that formed after an extreme melt event in the summer of 2012. Marshall said a first analysis of GROVER’s radar data revealed it was sufficient to detect the melt layer and potentially estimate its thickness.