The first robotic moon rover will touch down in the Relay Crater, just west of Nobile Crater in the Moon’s South Pole. The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) will hunt for ice in the moon’s south pole.
In a statement, NASA officials said that the decision comes after years of evaluation of the polar region to decide an optimum landing site for VIPER. They also added that three other landing sites were also considered, including an area outside Haworth Crater; another near Shoemaker Crater; and then finally one close to the ridgeline from Shackleton Crater.
As part of the Artemis program, which aims to establish a sustainable, long-term human presence on the surface and orbit of the moon, the VIPER will land on the moon’s surface in late 2023. One of the key objectives of the Artemis program is to make extensive use of resources available on the lunar surface.
VIPER will search for ice trapped under the polar craters, which could be an important source of water for astronauts in future missions.
Previous observations made by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed the presence of water in the form of ice in lunar poles. VIPER is designed to explore the region and search for the exact location of the ice, and its viability for extraction.
Since the Relay crater is in one of the permanently shadowed regions (PSR) of the moon, VIPER cannot go farther from its landing spot. The 450 kilograms rover will work for over 100 days using a drill and three spectrometers to drill the surface of the crater for up to 1 meter.
Built by Astrobotic Technology Inc, the rover mission cost over $660 million. Along with its lander, the rover will be carried to space by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. It will be NASA’s first uncrewed rover to land on the moon. The space agency had previously launched similarly sized buggies, driven by astronauts on a few Apollo missions in the 70s.
Cover Photo: Credit: NASA/JPL