Polaris Moon Rover to Prospect for Water in $20 Million Prize Attempt [VIDEO]

Charlie White

Private space exploration has kicked into high gear, and here's another example: Polaris, a robot that will land at the moon's northern pole. Its mission will be to find water by drilling three feet into the lunar surface.

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After missions to the moon by the U.S. and India discovered water on the moon, scientists now think there might be enough water ice on or near the lunar surface to serve as a source of water for astronauts, which can also be used to provide oxygen and rocket fuel.

You might be wondering why its solar panel is mounted vertically. That's because at the northernmost points of the moon -- one of the two polar regions on the moon where scientists think there could be substantial water -- the sunlight will hit this eight-foot long Polaris Rover at just the right angle.

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Even with that tall solar panel, it still might be difficult to retrieve water, which will probably be found at the bottoms of craters. That's why the rover's designers plan to land the spacecraft close enough to the lunar pole to find ice, but not so far north that its three solar arrays can't gather enough sunlight.

Polaris will reach the moon via the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the same launch vehicle that lifted the SpaceX Dragon capsule to orbit this week, where it docked with the International Space Station on Wednesday in the world's first commercial cargo mission.

Polaris is currently in the prototype stage, as you can see in the video above. It was built by Astrorobotic Technology, a spinoff company of a research group at Carnegie Mellon University. In addition to the funding and ice prospecting expertise it's receiving from NASA, the company hopes to win additional funds from Google, whose Lunar X Prize offers a $20 million grand prize to the first craft to land on the moon and then travel 500 feet while sending images, data and video back to Earth.

There is still much work to be done. Astrorobotic Technology says the Polaris "has the same configuration as the Rover that will eventually land on the moon," but still needs to improve its navigation software. The company didn't say when the rover would be ready to begin exploring the lunar surface, but there's some talk of the mission taking place byin 2015, the X Prize deadline.

Will they make it? We've contacted Astrorobotic Technology for fresh quotes, and will add them here when we get a response.

Polaris Moon Rover

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This story originally published on Mashable here.