Engineers are Testing how VIPER can Handle the Gnarliest Lunar Terrain

An illustration of NASA's VIPER lunar rover. It'll explore the Moon's south pole and map water resources. Image Credit: NASA Ames/Daniel Rutter

NASA’s getting ready to send a VIPER to the Moon. Not the popular sports car but a rugged vehicle that can handle whatever the lunar surface can throw at it. The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) was put through its paces recently at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The prototype drove up test slopes and clambered over boulders and craters. It also made its way through a simulated quicksand type of soil in a “sink tank”. It passed with flying colors, and showed engineers how it will handle similar conditions on the Moon.

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NASA’s VIPER Rover Will Hunt for Water Near Nobile Crater at Moon’s South Pole

A data visualization shows the mountainous area west of Nobile Crater and the smaller craters that litter its rim at the lunar south pole. The region includes permanently shadowed areas where subsurface water ice could persist, as well as sunlit areas that would make it possible to power the VIPER rover. (NASA Graphic)

NASA says its VIPER rover will head for the western edge of Nobile Crater near the moon’s south pole in 2023, targeting a region where shadowed craters are cold enough for water ice to exist, but where enough of the sun’s rays reach to keep the solar-powered robot going.

Today’s announcement provides a focus for a mission that’s meant to blaze a trail for Artemis astronauts who are scheduled to land on the lunar surface by as early as 2024, and for a sustainable lunar settlement that could take shape by the end of the decade.

“Once it’s on the surface, it will search for ice and other resources on and below the lunar surface that could one day be used and harvested for long-term human exploration of the moon,” Lori Glaze, director of the planetary science division at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said during a teleconference.

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NASA is Planning to Build a Lunar Rover With a 1-Meter Drill to Search for Water Ice

An illustration of NASA's VIPER lunar rover. It'll explore the Moon's south pole and map water resources. Image Credit: NASA Ames/Daniel Rutter

Meet VIPER, NASA’s new lunar rover, equipped with a drill to probe the Moon’s surface and look for water ice. VIPER, or Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, will carry a one-meter drill and will use it to map out water resources at the Moon’s south pole. It’s scheduled to be on the lunar surface by December 2023, one year later than it’s initial date.

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