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



NASA says its VIPER rover will head for the western fringe of Nobile Crater close to the moon’s south pole in 2023, focusing on a area the place shadowed craters are chilly sufficient for water ice to exist, however the place sufficient of the solar’s rays attain to maintain the photo voltaic-powered robotic going.
Today’s announcement supplies a spotlight for a mission that’s meant to blaze a path for Artemis astronauts who’re scheduled to land on the lunar floor by as early as 2024, and for a sustainable lunar settlement that might take form by the top of the last 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, mentioned throughout a teleconference.

Scientists say that cometary impacts have deposited tens of millions of tons of water ice within the lunar soil over the course of billions of years, with a lot of that ice persisting in completely shadowed areas of the moon’s craters close to the poles. Theoretically, that frozen H2O might be extracted and transformed into drinkable water and breathable oxygen in addition to hydrogen for powering a lunar base and refueling rockets.
VIPER — which stands for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover — is predicted to offer floor fact for the scientists’ suspicions and provides engineers the info they should design water extraction techniques.
The golf-cart-sized rover is because of be despatched to the moon by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in late 2023, as the first payload on Astrobotic’s Griffin robotic lunar lander. The mission is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center, with a mission lifecycle value of $433.5 million. The $199.5 million value of delivering VIPER to the moon is roofed by NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
Hunting water isn’t VIPER’s solely goal: The mission can also be aimed at offering scientists world wide with “further insight into our moon’s cosmic origin, evolution and history,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s affiliate administrator for science, mentioned in a information launch.
The selection of VIPER’s touchdown spot comes greater than a 12 months after the mission was introduced. Mission managers and scientists at NASA Ames thought of 4 finalist websites, Glaze mentioned. Nobile Crater was judged the highest prospect, based mostly on an evaluation of visibility for Earth-to-moon communications, the supply of daylight for the photo voltaic panels, and entry to shadowed areas the place water ice may be detected.
This temperature map from the Diviner radiometer on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter exhibits Nobile and different craters close to the lunar south pole. Other finalists had been close to Haworth Crater, Shoemaker Crater and Shackleton Crater. (NASA Image)
VIPER is predicted to traverse about 10 to 15 miles of the floor across the fringe of Nobile Crater, and analyze samples at six or extra research websites throughout its 100-day mission. The rover ought to be capable to dip into small craters surrounding Nobile’s perimeter. It’ll be outfitted with a set of spectrometers and cameras, plus a drill able to penetrating the lunar floor to a depth of a number of toes.
Anthony Colaprete, VIPER’s lead mission scientist, mentioned the rover’s goal website is a spot the place the solar “just peeks itself over the horizon 5 degrees or so constantly [and] creates shadows that literally run hundreds of miles long.”
“It’s going to be something that is truly out of this world,” he mentioned. “As these shadows move and dance as we orbit the sun, opportunities for traversing the moon present themselves through corridors of light and shadow. It’s these corridors of light and shadow that VIPER rover will traverse to conduct its scientific investigations. … We will visit several permanently shadowed craters — craters that have not seen sunlight for billions of years — to investigate inside those craters.”
VIPER’s mass spectrometer ought to be capable to detect water to a sensitivity within the vary of tens of elements per million, nicely under 0.1% by weight, Colaprete mentioned.
If all goes as deliberate, VIPER’s readings ought to produce the primary complete map that conclusively exhibits the distribution of water and different unstable compounds on the moon. Such a map might nicely function a template for future guides to be consulted by astronauts exploring the moon, Mars and different off-Earth locations.
And if VIPER determines that the water ice everybody expects to seek out on the moon doesn’t exist? “Oh, I don’t think I want to place those odds at this time,” Colaprete mentioned in response to a reporter’s query. But he went on to think about the chance.
“If we find that there’s no water in any place we look, that is a fundamental discovery, and we will be scratching our heads and rewriting textbooks again,” he mentioned, “because it’s just not something that we would expect.”
NASA’s moon exploration actions, and the VIPER mission particularly, would be the focus of a Reddit Ask Me Anything session at four p.m. EDT (20:00 UT) Tuesday, Sept. 21.
Lead picture: A knowledge visualization exhibits the mountainous space west of Nobile Crater and the smaller craters that litter its rim at the lunar south pole. The area contains completely shadowed areas the place subsurface water ice might persist, in addition to sunlit areas that might make it doable to energy the VIPER rover. Source: NASA
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