NASA’s robotic rover that is fitted with headlights and a set of powerful instruments will explore the dark side of the moon in search of crucial water molecules and some other sustaining minerals. The VIPER is set to transform our knowledge of lunar water, with all of it potentially usable for future exploration.
The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) is a NASA-developed lunar rover that is scheduled to arrive on the moon’s surface in November 2023.
The rover, which is currently in progress, will be about the size of a golf cart (1.4*1.4*2m) and will be tasked with generating leads for lunar resources, especially water and ice, mapping their distribution, and measuring their depth and purity. VIPER’s advanced wheels and suspension system, which will enable the rover to negotiate steep inclines and different surface types, as well as dip down into impact craters, is one of the most exciting aspects of the rover. Rover would use a specialized method to investigate lunar craters, covering a range of soil types.
VIPER is based on a resource prospector mission that had been in the works at Ames for years but was shelved in 2018. In June of last year, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic was awarded the contract to launch transport and deliver VIPER to the lunar surface. According to NASA, total mission production costs are $433.5 million, with $226.5 allocated to the Astrobotic delivery contract.
It will land near the moon’s the South Pole to explore permanently shadowed regions that could contain water and ice deposits. Any ice on or near the surface may be useful for life support and as a propulsion source for potential human missions.
This is an example of how robotic science missions and human exploration work together, and why both are needed for a long-term presence on the moon. Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover data will aid the agency in mapping resources at the inner South Pole that could one day be used for long-term manned missions of the moon.
VIPER is a mission that is only available for a limited amount of time. It will be operational for a total of 100 days. It will have to rapidly work through the drastic changes in light and dark at the lunar South Poles when running on solar power. Since there is no sunlight to harvest with solar panels at the poles, the explorer will carry all the power it requires to last for around 100 days there.