The Perseverance Mars rover isn’t the only new rover in NASA’s collection of robots that will explore celestial bodies in space. The slightly more aggressively named VIPER rover will be Moon-bound in 2023.

Today NASA unveiled which company has been awarded the contract to transport VIPER to the Moon using a lunar landing system: Astrobotic. The company will receive $199.5 million for the service.

VIPER

VIPER, or Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, will be tasked with studying water ice around the South Pole of the Moon.

“As the first resource-mapping mission on the surface of another world, VIPER will help pave the way for a new era of human missions to the lunar surface and will bring NASA a step closer to developing a sustainable, long-term robotic and human presence on the Moon as part of the Artemis program,” NASA says.

The space agency lays out what’s ahead for VIPER before and after it takes off in 2023:

Pre-launch activities: Preparation for the mission, including pre-project planning; science definition and instrument selection; landing site selection; and rover assembly and testing.

Delivery to CLPS partner: Rover delivery to the commercial partner responsible for sending VIPER to the Moon

Launch: Lift-off from Earth aboard the commercial provider in late 2023

Cruise: Voyage through space to the Moon

Descent and landing: VIPER’s arrival at the South Pole of the Moon aboard a commercial lunar lander

Instrument checks and first drive: Tests to ensure the rover is fully operational and then driving off of the lander.

Surface operations: Rover operations on the Moon sampling water ice from four types of lunar environments. VIPER collects data for about 100 Earth days, including multiple survival periods at designated safe havens.

Mission end: VIPER’s mission ends when it encounters periods of cold and dark longer than four Earth days. In a planned location, the rover freezes in the very cold temperatures of the polar regions.

Astrobotic

Astrobotic, which was founded in 2007, has previously been awarded NASA contracts for delivering payloads to the Moon. For this mission, Astrobotic will use its Griffin lunar lander to transport VIPER.

Griffin’s delivery of VIPER will be Astrobotic’s second CLPS delivery, following the company’s Peregrine lander delivery in 2021. In addition, Astrobotic’s MoonRanger rover was previously selected by NASA for delivery to the Moon in 2022 on the lander of another CLPS partner.

The Griffin lunar lander is Astrobotic’s medium capacity lander product line, and is capable of delivering up to 500 kg of mass to the lunar surface. Griffin uses many of the same subsystems and approaches employed by the Peregrine lander, which will fly two years before VIPER. Both lander product lines put a heavy emphasis on safe and reliable delivery of customer payloads to the Moon.

Key Insights

  • NASA selected Astrobotic out of a pool of up to 14 companies
  • NASA doesn’t share how many companies competed for the contract
  • Launch provider will be chosen and announced later this year
  • Astrobotic has one other lunar lander contract with NASA
  • Astrobotic described mission as a “very big deal” for the company that team is “really, really excited” about
  • Astrobotic says it has been “building company for this opportunity for 13 years”

NASA held a teleconference on Thursday to discuss the announcement:

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