A robotic Lunar Penguin explorer could be hopping around on the moon by 2009, Raytheon Co. said Tuesday, as it unveiled the concept lander at an aerospace conference.
The unmanned lunar device, in development for two years, is 3 feet (1 meter) tall and weighs approximately 230 pounds (105 kilograms). It “hops” by reigniting small propulsion engines.
The Penguin, unveiled at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2005 Conference, can make a single jump of about six-tenths of a mile (1 kilometer) and could be adapted to make additional jumps, possibly over greater distances.
President Bush last year refocused the space program on sending people to the moon, Mars and beyond. Raytheon said the Penguin could be a robotic precursor to future manned space missions and was being proposed to NASA.
While still in the concept stage, the explorer could be launched as early as 2009, said Karleen Seybold, a senior systems engineer for Raytheon, based in Waltham, Mass.
The Lunar Penguin, originally intended to land on the south pole of the moon to search for ice, is based on tactical weapons technologies, which should make it much more affordable, Raytheon said. However, the company did not disclose a price.
The lander sits on four legs, much like a small version of the original landers that brought astronauts to the moon. The squat, compact unit has a few tiny jump boosters protruding below and on its sides, and looks nothing like an actual penguin.
The Penguin uses rocket engines from ground-based missile defense systems and the guidance system of a Tomahawk cruise missile.
“Since we could set it down in such a precise location, the Penguin could be the delivery vehicle for the science community,” said Seybold said.
Raytheon is a major military defense technology company but has only a small share of NASA contracts.