NASA has announced the precise landing location for its VIPER rover when it arrives on the surface of our moon in 2023 as part of the Artemis program.
Short for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, VIPER will set down close to the western edge of the Nobile Crater at the moon’s south pole, NASA announced on Monday, September 20.
Important criteria for selecting the landing site included available sunlight so that VIPER will be able to charge and stay warm during its 100-day journey, as well as Earth visibility to maintain communications with the mission team. Data showing the potential presence of water and other resources in the area was also important, as was the suitability of the terrain for the wheel-based rover. Taking all of this into account, the mission team plans to explore six sites just to the west of the Nobile Crater.
NASA describes the moon’s south pole as “one of the coldest areas in our solar system,” as some parts are permanently shadowed from the sun. Up till now, NASA has only used remote sensing equipment on passing orbiters to explore the area, so there’s much excitement about the approaching VIPER mission and what it might discover.
Scientists have already confirmed the presence of ice at the moons’ south pole, and now they’re keen to work out the precise locations of water on the lunar surface and to map those places. They also want to know to what form it’s in, and to find out where it came from. An abundance of the substance could even assist future human missions to the moon and beyond. It’s hoped the VIPER mission will also uncover other useful resources on the lunar surface.
“The data VIPER returns will provide lunar scientists around the world with further insight into our moon’s cosmic origin, evolution, and history, and it will also help inform future Artemis missions to the moon and beyond by enabling us to better understand the lunar environment in these previously unexplored areas hundreds of thousands of miles away,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science.
VIPER will be the first resource-mapping mission on the surface of another celestial body. It will take place ahead of the next crewed mission to the moon, which will also land at the lunar south pole, possibly within the next five years.
The VIPER rover will launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket and be delivered to the lunar surface by Astrobotic’s Griffin lander under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative.
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