NASA will launch its Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, in 2023 to get a closer view of the Moon’s South Pole and assess the concentration of water and other potential resources on its surface. The space agency undertakes the mission of understanding whether it is possible for human life to sustain itself there, using locally available resources. The VIPER mobile robot, said NASA, is the first resource mapping mission on any other celestial body.
NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) will provide the launcher and lander for what will be a 100-day mission. Similar to a golf cart, VIPER is 5 feet by 5 feet tall and weighs 430 kilograms, the agency said. On his website, NASA said the lunar rover will directly analyze water ice on the surface and below the surface of the celestial body. The VIPER will also assess the same at varying depths and temperatures in four main soil environments on the moon.
The lunar rover will transmit the data to Earth which will then be used in the creation of resource maps. It will also help scientists determine the location and concentration of frozen water on the Moon and various forms such as ice crystals or molecules chemically bound to other materials. NASA said VIPER’s findings will inform “future landing sites under the Artemis program by helping to determine locations where water and other resources can be harvested” to support humans during extended stays. .
The agency added that the findings could be a game-changer, especially since it’s not possible to bring everything to the Moon, Mars and beyond for long-term exploration. It will use the data collected by VIPER to determine where the water ice is most likely to be found and the easiest to access. This is going to be a crucial step in NASA’s Artemis program to establish a lasting human presence on the moon’s surface by 2028, the agency said.
NASA has said that satellites orbiting the Moon on past missions have helped us understand that there is water ice on its surface. However, to use it someday, they need to learn more about it – up close and personal. âVIPER will travel the moon using its three instruments and a 3.28-foot (1 m) drill to detect and analyze various environments in the lunar soil at different depths and temperatures,â the agency said. “The rover will venture into permanently shaded craters, some of the coldest places in the solar system, where water ice reserves have lasted for billions of years.”
There are also challenges associated with extreme temperature conditions, dynamic lighting, and complex terrain. The near real-time driving of the rover will also pose new engineering and design challenges for the team.