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NASA's Rover Probing Greenland's Two-Mile Thick Ice Sheet

May 03, 2013 10:17 PM EDT
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NASA is on a mission to find out what lies beneath the two-mile thick ice sheets in Greenland by sending in a remote-controlled, solar-powered robot called Grover.

Named Grover (short for Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research), the rover will explore Greenland's ice sheets to better understand how they form, and how quickly they may be melting. Last summer, higher-than-normal temperatures caused surface melting across about 97 percent of the ice sheet. Grover was developed in 2010 and 2011 by teams of students participating in summer engineering boot camps at Goddard.

According to a press release from NASA, Grover is solar-powered and semi-autonomous, and will embark on its first mission beginning on May 3, and continuing until June 8. It was developed from 2010-2011 by teams of students in summer engineering boot camps at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

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. Research with polar rovers costs less than aircraft or satellites, the usual platforms.

"Robots like Grover will give us a new tool for glaciology studies," said Lora Koenig, a glaciologist at Goddard and science adviser on the project.

NASA outlined the plans, saying Grover will first operate near the National Science Foundation's Summit Camp, located at the apex of Greenland's ice sheet. Once it appears the rover is functioning properly, it will roam more widely and be controlled via satellite. Since the Arctic sun shines 24 hours a day during the summer, the solar-powered rover will be able to operate continuously.

"We think it's really powerful," Gabriel Trisca, a Boise State master's degree student who developed Grover's software, said in the NASA 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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