NASA’s VIPER missionDate: 15 April 2020 Tags: Space
As a prelude to NASA’s upcoming manned Artemis missions scheduled to start in 2024, NASA will be sending the golf-cart sized robot, VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover), in 2023 to search for and map lunar resources (volatiles, minerals, and water ice) on the moon.
Creating a map of the water ice on the moon will pave the way for future exploration and extraction missions. Water ice will be a critical resource for future exploration and colonization, not only for sustaining life (breathable oxygen) but also for deriving rocket fuel elements (hydrogen, oxygen).
The mission will target the south pole region of the moon (landing site to be determined), where previous NASA missions have confirmed water ice to be present, especially in the cold permanent shadow areas of craters.
Once at the south pole, VIPER’s operating radius will be several kilometers, where it will explore various types of soils (areas of constant light, partial light, and complete darkness).
The rover will need to be robust enough to handle the extreme cold in the permanent shadow areas where temperatures never go above -250 F. The VIPER mission is planned to last approximately 100 days.
VIPER will be outfitted with various equipment to perform its duties. First of all, to identify potential drilling spots, the Neutron Spectrometer System (NSS) provided by NASA will detect hydrogen underneath the surface from afar.
Once a potential drilling spot has been identified, the rover will extract samples from down to 1-meter in depth by using The Regolith and Ice Drilling for Exploring New Terrain (TRIDENT) provided by Honeybee Robotics.
Once extracted, VIPER will analyze the samples by using the Near InfraRed Volatiles Spectrometer System (NIRVSS) to determine the type of hydrogen (water molecule or hydroxyl).
It will also analyze the volatile and mineral composition by using the Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo).