Officials announced NASA Today, the Flying Antarctic Exploration Vehicle (VIPER) will land west of Noble Crater near the moon’s south pole in late 2023, and VIPER will fly to the moon aboard the Griffin, a lander built by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Corporation that will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
“Choosing a landing site for VIPER is an exciting and important decision for all of us,” Daniel Andrews, VIPER project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley said in a statement.
“Years of study have passed evaluating the polar region that Viper will explore, and VIPER is heading to a scientifically unknown region to test hypotheses and reveal important information for future human space exploration,” Andrews said.
VIPER is an important part of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to establish a long-term, sustainable human presence on and around the Moon by the end of 2020.
Achieving this goal will require extensive use of the Moon’s resources, especially water ice, NASA officials said.
Observations by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and other spacecraft indicate that the moon contains a lot of water ice, especially in permanently shaded regions (PSRs) near its poles, and VIPER is designed to illustrate such work, telling scientists how much ice there is. Indeed, and how humanity can access it.
The Nobile site covers 36 square miles (93 square kilometers), and the 950-pound (450 kg) solar-powered VIPER will measure and mark the water ice beneath its wheels at a variety of locations across Nobile, including PSRs that are Among the coldest spots in the entire solar system.
VIPER will also do this work over at least 100 Earth days using three spectrometers and an exercise, which will obtain samples from up to 3.3 feet (1 meter) underground.
The VIPER data will provide lunar scientists around the world with further insight into the origin, evolution and history of the cosmic moon, and will also help inform future Artemis missions to the moon and beyond by enabling us to better understand the lunar environment in the future.
These previously unexplored regions are hundreds of thousands of miles away, Thomas Zurbuchen, chief of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in the same statement.