The agency has selected the Nobile Crater near the south lunar pole to look for frozen water that will be essential for future astronaut missions. The water ice trapped at the bottom of the craters could be a boon to future astronauts, as it provides water to drink, air to breathe, and fuel to bring them to Earth or further into the solar system.
NASA has now identified the crater that the rover, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, will explore for about 100 days after arriving a few years from now.
VIPER will land near the south pole of the moon, on the western edge of the 70 kilometers wide Nobile crater that formed when something hit the moon. Shadows are among the coldest places in the solar system.
“The rover will zoom in and out of the lunar soil and even drill several feet deeper, which will help us redefine our knowledge of our moon,” said Lori Glaze, manager of NASA’s planetary research division during a press conference on Monday.
Since the VIPER is powered by solar panels, it cannot go very far in the dark, its batteries keep it running for up to 50 hours in the dark and it needs a direct light line to earth to communicate. It’s a convenient location, NASA officials said, because the terrain is varied but sensitive enough for the rover to navigate. The VIPER is roughly the size of a golf cart: 1.5 meters long, 1.5 meters wide and about 2.40 meters high. Weighing around 1,000 pounds, you’ll carry a range of tools, including a drill bit that you can use to take samples below the surface. However,
NASA officials admit they have no definitive data to show that there is a significant amount of water in the Nobile area. Whether there is water or not, the results of the VIPER mission will compare what is measured from orbit and what is actually on the lunar floor.
“If we find that there is no water everywhere, it is a fundamental discovery,” said Anthony Colaprete, the mission’s chief scientist, “and we will scratch our heads and rewrite the manuals.”
Water ice is an important resource for lunar exploration, but its exact location and composition on the moon are unknown. It can be on the surface in the form of frost or buried underground. It can be pure or mineral water. VIPER’s mission is to solve this problem, and this information will help plan Artemis, NASA’s program to return astronauts to the moon in late 2023. The cost to build and operate VIPER is $ 433.5 million, and NASA is paying Astrobotic an additional $ 226 million to send it to the lunar surface.
VIPER is part of a series of robotic missions that NASA is funding as part of its renewed interest in the moon. The first, CAPSTONE, could be launched into lunar orbit from New Zealand next month on a small moon-built rocket. Rocket Lab Company, his best-selling playbook after hiring private companies to move goods and astronauts to the International Space Station. In the past, the space agency should have developed the landing system for VIPER, but now it relies on private companies like Astrobotic for this service.
A milestone for the Artemis program will be the launch of an Orion space capsule designed to move astronauts from Earth into orbit. Nobody will be on board this flight; it’s a test of the Orion and NASA mass launch systems. NASA officials are still saying it could start later this year, but the schedule is expected to be postponed to 2022, but likely late. And you mustn’t be alone. The China and Russia missions, possibly in collaboration, also look to the South Pole to study water ice.
While the Soviet Union dispatched two rovers in the 1970s and China dispatched two since 2013, including one in 2019 as part of the first mission to land on the other side of the moon, VIPER will be NASA’s first robotic moon rover.
NASA actually has a small mission called the Lunar Trailblazer that is supposed to create global maps of moon water from orbit. Bethany L. Ehlmann, the senior investigator for the mission, said it would be an eye in the sky to show VIPER where there is water.