NASA's first mobile robot VIPER will explore the lunar surface when it launches in 2023

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is sending its first mobile robot to the moon and is expected to launch it by late 2023. The robot named Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) is part of the Artemis program. It will map and explore the moon's resources on and under the lunar surface, particularly water-ice. This will help them in providing a sustained human presence on the moon.

According to NASA, when astronauts return to the moon after the Apollo mission, they will "follow in VIPER’s wheel prints and land at the lunar South Pole."

 Image credit: NASA

About the rover

When VIPER lands on the lunar surface, it will use its suspension system and specialised wheels that will allow it to travel over all types of soils and inclines. The statement says that the design of the rover is inspired by Resource Prospector which NASA cancelled in 2018. It will have a mission duration of three lunar days (100 Earth days).

VIPER will be the most capable robot NASA has ever sent to the lunar surface and allow us to explore parts of the Moon we’ve never seen” said Sarah Noble, program scientist for VIPER.

“The rover will teach us about the origin and distribution of water on the Moon and prepare us to harvest resources 240,000 miles from Earth that could be used to safely send astronauts even farther into space, including Mars,” she added.

The rover has solar-powered headlights that will let it look at all the regions that are in permanent darkness in the far side of the moon. These are the darkest, coldest parts of the moon as it never faces the Sun.

“The data received from VIPER has the potential to aid our scientists in determining precise locations and concentrations of ice on the Moon and will help us evaluate the environment and potential resources at the lunar south pole in preparation for Artemis astronauts,” said Lori Glaze, director for NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington.

NASA's statement reports that VIPER will have four instruments. It includes the Regolith and Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrains (TRIDENT) hammer drill, the Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo) instrument, the Near-Infrared Volatiles Spectrometer System (NIRVSS) and the Neutron Spectrometer System (NSS).

Space robotics tech company Astrobotics has been assigned the task of the launch, transit, and delivery of VIPER to the surface of the moon.

This is a part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS). Other private aerospace companies that take part in this initiative is SpaceX, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corporation, to name a few. NASA has invested $433.5 million for its mission development and operations. The current delivery contract value for Astrobotic to deliver VIPER to the Moon through CLPS is approximately $226.5 million.



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