The Polaris rover is designed to explore the north polar region of the Moon and drill down into the lunar surface in search of water ice.
The presence of significant amounts of water on the moon was confirmed back in November 2009, using data collected from the LCROSS probe after it intentionally slammed itself into a lunar crater about a month earlier. The intent was to kick up dust plumes from the shadowy part of a lunar crater where any water ice — if it was there — would be shielded from the sun's rays. How much is significant? It's hard to tell, because there's no way to know exactly which craters have water ice deposits (if they don't all have them) or how big the deposits could be.
We can't keep slamming $79 million dollar space probes into the moon — well, okay, we could, but I think there would be some justifiable complaints about how the government is spending its tax revenues — so the solution is to go there and sample multiple areas.
So, in steps the Google X PRIZE foundation and its $30 million dollar incentive program, to drive private ventures to accomplish that objective.
At just about the size of a golf cart, Polaris has a mass of only 150 kg, and is designed to hold another 80 kg of equipment. The rover has three upright solar panels that will supply it with power, and their configuration is very carefully chosen, taking into account that the sun will be very low on the horizon where the rover will be operating. It will carry a drill to take core samples and scientific instruments to examine those samples for water content.
The Astrobotic team will be performing flight-testing with Polaris for now, refining and modifying its systems, but once they have a fully-functioning model, their plans are to send it to the Moon perched atop one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets.
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According to the X PRIZE website, as this is a ''first to demonstrate' contest, the teams that entered the contest have until the end of 2015 to "safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, have that robot travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to the Earth."