Science

NASA picks Astrobotic to land water-hunting rover on Moon

NASA picks Astrobotic to land water-hunting rover on Moon”

VIPER's mapping of lunar water ice could be the first step toward utilizing resources in the space environment - rather than carting them all from Earth - to enable more affordable and sustainable space exploration.

The VIPER rover will traverse miles near the lunar south pole during its mission that will last 100 Earth days.

The delivery service "is going to provide a steady cadence of payloads and instruments to maximize science at the moon and to advance exploration technology", said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for the science mission directorate.

Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said: "It is an enormous honour and responsibility to be chosen by NASA to deliver this mission of national importance". He says, "Astrobotic's lunar logistics services were created to open a new era on the Moon". The company is set to transport scientific payloads to the lunar surface aboard its Peregrine lander for its first CLPS mission in 2021, using a ULA Vulcan rocket to get to the Moon.

Astrobotic and NASA aren't strangers - The company has also been tapped by NASA to send as many as 14 payloads to the Moon's Lacus Mortis crater by July 2021, and to build the MoonRanger rover that will create 3D maps of the Moon's surface in the near future, among other partnerships. Furthermore, NASA hasn't sent a crucial the lunar surface - with robots or people - since the Apollo program, which finished during the 1970s. The rover also will have a drill to bore approximately 3 feet into the lunar surface. "We're doing something that's never been done before - testing the instruments on the Moon as the rover is being developed".

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VIPER's primary role will be to help scientists better understand orbital data that hints to where ice reserves may be lurking under the moon's surface. As the name suggests, the rover will head to the Moon's South Pole to explore and search for resources, and the biggest item on its scavenger hunt list is water.

When the rover was first announced, NASA was aiming for it to land on the moon in late 2022. It is expected that his work will help astronauts who should begin to explore the surface of our natural satellite in 2024 as part of the Artemis program implemented by NASA. Much of it is locked away in ice, and the surface material of the Moon, called lunar regolith, is thought to hold a significant amount.

VIPER is a collaboration between various NASA entities and agency partners. Towards this goal, NASA has awarded the Pittsburgh-based Astrobiotic £158.67million ($199.5million) to fly VIPER. That's a far different approach than NASA took during its previous lunar programs, including Apollo, the space agency worked with private corporations but kept much of the design and testing processes in-house. It's all part of the VIPER project.

The program to develop commercial space flight programs for Nasa was launched a decade ago under the administration of then-president Barack Obama, marking a dramatic change for the space agency, which had previously designed and built its own rockets and space vehicles.



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