Moon Robot VIPER Will Reimagine Lunar Exploration
NASA’s Artemis program is set to achieve groundbreaking milestones with the launch of its first mobile robot, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER). Tasked with exploring the Moon’s South Pole, VIPER aims to identify ice and resources beneath the lunar surface, crucial for future human exploration and habitation. Designed with innovative features like the first headlights on a lunar rover, VIPER will navigate the challenging, permanently shadowed regions, providing valuable data on ice locations and concentrations. Astrobotic, under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, will facilitate VIPER’s launch, transit, and lunar surface delivery. The rover’s enhanced design, succeeding the canceled Resource Prospector, includes specialized wheels and a suspension system for versatile exploration of lunar craters. VIPER’s mission duration has been extended to three lunar days, showcasing its evolution and increased science capabilities.
Equipped with advanced instruments such as the TRIDENT hammer drill, Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo), Near-Infrared Volatiles Spectrometer System (NIRVSS), and Neutron Spectrometer System and (NSS), VIPER will pave the way for future lunar exploration. Astrobotic’s first flight will carry MSolo, NIRVSS, and NVSS to the Moon, marking a significant step in CLPS deliveries. NASA’s investment in VIPER amounts to $433.5 million, emphasizing the agency’s commitment to advancing robotic science missions and human exploration synergistically. Sarah Noble, program scientist for VIPER, highlights the rover’s significance, stating it will be NASA’s most capable lunar robot, providing insights into lunar water origin and distribution. VIPER’s mission aligns with NASA’s broader Artemis program, aiming to send both robots and humans to explore unprecedented lunar territories. The eventual return of astronauts to the lunar surface, with a focus on the South Pole and the historic landing of the first woman, marks a pivotal step towards sustainable lunar exploration and prepares humanity for future space missions, including Mars.