NASA has announced that it will launch its Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, in 2023.
- NASA is undertaking the mission to understand if it is possible for human life to sustain there, by using locally available resources.
About VIPER Mission:
- VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) is a lunar rover developed by NASA (Ames Research Center).
- It is currently planned to be delivered to the surface of the Moon in November 2023.
- The rover will be tasked with prospecting for lunar resources in permanently shadowed areas in the lunar south pole region, especially by mapping the distribution and concentration of water ice.
- The mission builds on a previous NASA rover concept called Resource Prospector, which was cancelled in 2018
- VIPER will be carried aboard Astrobotic’s Griffin lander as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.
- Astrobotic is responsible for end-to-end services for delivery of VIPER, including integration with its Griffin lander, launch from Earth, and landing on the Moon
- It is the first resource mapping mission on any other celestial body.
- NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) will be providing the launch vehicle and lander and it is going to be a 100-day mission.
NASA’s VIPER – Objectives
- VIPER will analyse four regions on the lunar surface. These include:
- Surface region – soils on the surface where ice is expected to be stable
- Shallow region – soils where ice is expected to be stable within 20 inches of the surface
- Deep region – soils where ice is expected to be stable at depths of 20-40 inches
- Dry region – soils where no ice is expected within the top 40 inches
- It will study the form in which water is available on the lunar surface, if actually present
- The research will be done on other resources available which can help in future human experiments and projects on the Moon
- Scientists will study the origin of water on the surface of the Moon
- VIPER will create resource maps to help determine locations where water and potentially other accessible materials could be harvested to sustain humans over extended stays
Challenge with VIPER Mission
The mission to the Moon comes with its share of challenges and is more complex in comparison to the missions launched for Mars. Given below are the key challenges that might be faced by the VIPER Mission:
- Extreme Temperature – The rover will have to experience rough conditions with the surface temperatures varying by 500 degrees Fahrenheit between sunlight and shade. Thus, the hardware, radiators and heat pipe will help the rover sustain between extreme cold and overheating
- Real-Time Drivers – Since the moon is closer to earth, in comparison to Mars, the drivers managing the rover from Earth will have to be more alert as the transmission will be more interactive
- Mobility – There is no evidence of the surface of the moon towards its south pole. It may be rigid or may be fluffy, thus, the rover has been designed in a manner that it can easily move on the lunar surface
- Complex route planning – The rapid change between light and darkness on the surface is another challenge that the rover and its handlers will have to deal with. The movement of the rover and its parking on the lunar surface will have to be well planned
- Requirement of Headlights on the Rover – As per the objectives of the mission, the rover will study and analyse the deep craters on the lunar surface where even sunlight cannot reach them. Thus, this will be NASA’s first rover which will comprise both, cameras and headlights
Significance of the Mission:
- VIPER will directly analyze water ice on the surface and subsurface of the Moon at varying depths and temperature conditions within four main soil environments.
- The data VIPER transmits back to Earth will be used to create resource maps helping scientists determine the location and concentration of water ice on the Moon.
- These findings will inform future landing sites under the Artemis Mission by helping to determine locations where water and other resources can be harvested to sustain humans over extended stays.