NASA announces landing site on the Moon for its water hunting rover, VIPER

NASA is sending a rover where no man or robot has gone before.

As of recent, mining lunar water ice has been all the talk for enabling deep space exploration and establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon. We’ve known from decades of study that the Moon has water, but where and how much has been the question.

During NASA’s teleconference moments ago, the space agency announced the landing site for the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), a golf cart-sized water hunting robot.

NASA picked the western edge of Nobile Crater at the south polar region of the Moon from a list of four finalists. Beating out the popular Shackleton crater due to better conditions and altitude on the Moon, making Earth-rover communication more reliable.

In Nobile Crater, VIPER will explore permanently shadowed areas that haven’t seen sunlight for billions of years, using advanced instruments and tools to determine the concentration and location of possible water ice, along with other resources, in this area.

Render of VIPER | Image credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter

Compared to the Mars rovers, NASA’s VIPER looks much different and operates differently in many ways. Because of the constraints and conditions of operating in an atmosphere-less environment, where the Sun sits just on the horizon, VIPER hosts solar panels on the sides of its body rather than directly on top. It uses a more flexible four-wheel design where the rover can actually “crab walk” in a sticky situation.

When comparing speed from rovers on the red planet, VIPER is fast. NASA’s latest Perseverance rover has a top speed of .01 mph (.016 kph). NASA’s lunar rover will move about 50 times faster, at a top speed of 0.5 mph (0.8 kph).

According to NASA, “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 sustain humans over extended stays.”

Bringing everything humans need for a long-term stay in space would be extremely costly, so locating natural resources that may already exist on the Moon, like water, would be a game-changer in the future of space exploration and lunar colonization.

Key highlights:

Launch: Late 2023

Launch provider: SpaceX, Falcon Heavy

Landing site: South Pole of the Moon

Mission duration: 100 Earth days, covering 3 cycles of lunar day and night

Distance goal: 12 miles (20 kilometers)

Rover size: Similar to a golf cart: 5 feet by 5 feet by 8 feet (1.5 meters by 1.5 meters by 2.5 meters) and 950 pounds (430 kilograms)

Onboard instruments: 3 spectrometers and a 3.28-foot (1-meter) drill

Power: Solar-charged battery, peak power of 450 watts

Top speed: 0.5 mph (0.8 kph)

Communications: X-band direct-to-Earth (no relay) over the Deep Space Network

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