NASA unveils landing site on the moon for ice-hunting VIPER rover

We now know the place NASA’s first-ever robotic moon rover will contact down. 

The ice-hunting Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) will land simply west of Nobile Crater, which sits close to the moon’s south pole, NASA officers introduced right this moment (Sept. 20). In late 2023, VIPER will fly to the moon aboard Griffin, a lander constructed by Pittsburgh-based firm Astrobotic that can launch atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

“Selecting a landing site for VIPER is an exciting and important decision for all of us,” Daniel Andrews, VIPER mission supervisor at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, said in a statement

“Years of study have gone into evaluating the polar region VIPER will explore,” Andrews stated. “VIPER is going into uncharted territory — informed by science — to test hypotheses and reveal critical information for future human space exploration.”

Related: Moon VIPER: NASA’s water-sniffing rover for the lunar south pole

VIPER is a crucial a part of NASA’s Artemis program, which goals to ascertain a long-term, sustainable human presence on and round the moon by the finish of the 2020s. Achieving this purpose would require the in depth use of lunar sources, particularly water ice, NASA officers have stated.

Observations by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and different spacecraft recommend that the moon harbors a number of water ice, particularly in completely shadowed areas (PSRs) close to its poles. VIPER is designed to ground-truth such work, telling scientists how a lot ice is admittedly there and the way accessible it’s to humanity.

The Nobile site covers 36 sq. miles (93 sq. kilometers). The 950-pound (450 kilograms), solar-powered VIPER will measure and characterize the water ice beneath its wheels at a wide range of places all through Nobile, together with PSRs, that are amongst the coldest spots in the total solar system. VIPER will do that work over the course of no less than 100 Earth days utilizing three spectrometers and a drill, which can get hold of samples from as much as 3.3 ft (1 meter) underground.

“The data VIPER returns will provide lunar scientists around the world with further insight into our moon’s cosmic origin, evolution, and history, and it will also help inform future Artemis missions to the moon and beyond by enabling us to better understand the lunar environment in these previously unexplored areas hundreds of thousands of miles away,” Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, stated in the similar assertion.

The VIPER crew had been contemplating 4 finalist landing websites close to the lunar south pole for the four-wheeled robotic. The different three had been an space outdoors Haworth Crater; a ridgeline operating from Shackleton Crater; and a spot close to Shoemaker Crater, VIPER mission scientist Tony Colaprete of NASA Ames stated throughout a information convention right this moment.

All 4 finalist websites are intriguing, and all look like appropriate each scientifically and logistically, Colaprete stated. 

“Ultimately, it came down to total number of working days,” he stated throughout right this moment’s information convention, explaining {that a} “working day” is one during which the rover has sufficient daylight to function and may also talk with Earth. (Such communication can be direct from VIPER to its handlers; the robotic won’t use a relay satellite tv for pc.)

“We need at least about 10 or so days to fulfill our mission requirements,” Colaprete stated. “We get 40-plus at Nobile, and that was much greater than any of these other places.” 

The complete value of VIPER’s mission is predicted to be roughly $660 million — $433.5 million for mission growth and operations plus about $226.5 million for the supply contract with Astrobotic, which incorporates the value of launch, NASA officials have said. That supply contract was signed by way of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

While VIPER can be NASA’s first uncrewed rover to hit the gray grime, it will not be the agency’s first wheeled lunar automobile of any form: NASA launched astronaut-driven moon buggies on the ultimate three Apollo missions, in 1971 and 1972.

Mike Wall is the creator of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a guide about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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