Skip to main content

Watch NASA putting its VIPER lunar rover through its paces

NASA has released a video showing off the latest prototype of its VIPER moon rover.

Short for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, VIPER will search for ice and other resources when it reaches the moon’s south pole in November 2023.

The video (below) was shot at NASA Glenn’s Simulated Lunar Operations Laboratory, or SLOPE bed, and shows the rover tackling a range of surfaces and obstacles similar to what it will experience on the lunar surface.

Roll 'em out… on the Moon 🌕

Our VIPER rover's latest prototype is getting put to the test at @NASAGlenn, as we get ready to search for ice and other @NASAArtemis resources at the lunar South Pole:

— NASA (@NASA) January 26, 2022

The latest prototype of the four-wheel rover, called Moon Gravitation Representative Unit 3 (MGRU3), has the same wheel design and base size as the rover that’s heading to the moon. The prototype’s motors, gearboxes, and joints are also the same as those that will be fitted to the final design.

“This test was the third mobility assessment conducted by VIPER at SLOPE to collect critical data on the software mobility controls, the onboard navigation system, and mobility performance over hazards and on loose soil,” NASA said in an article on its website. “For over two weeks, the team used the facility’s unique capabilities to drive MGRU3 over various obstacles and up steep slopes.”

NASA said the data gathered from this and other tests will help the team to plan the safest routes for the rover when it begins exploring the moon’s challenging terrain next year.

A more advanced VIPER prototype will return to NASA Glenn’s lab for further testing in the spring, described by the space agency as the rover’s “final exam” where it will be aiming to meet design requirements with its hardware, software, and electronics.

NASA has described VIPER’s research site at the moon’s south pole as “one of the coldest areas in our solar system,” its icy conditions the result of some parts being permanently shadowed from the sun. Up to now, exploration of the area has involved the use of remote sensing equipment on passing orbiters. Expectations are therefore high that the 100-day VIPER mission will make some breakthrough discoveries regarding ice and other resources, findings that could prove vital for future crewed missions to the moon and beyond.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will launch the mission from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida next year. VIPER will then be delivered to the lunar surface by Astrobotic’s Griffin lander as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

To learn more about NASA’s VIPER mission, check out this informative Digital Trends article.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Odysseus lunar lander sends a ‘fitting farewell transmission’ to Earth
An image captured by Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lunar lander.

Despite a messy landing that left the Odysseus spacecraft with a broken leg and tilting over, the team at Intuitive Machines has hailed its IM-1 lunar mission a success.

That’s because it managed to get Odysseus onto the lunar surface largely in one piece and operating well enough to send data back to Earth.

Read more
With Intuitive Machines’ mission cut short, when is the next lunar landing?
NASA's Orion spacecraft as it flies by the moon.

Performing a controlled, soft landing on the moon isn’t easy. Three missions attempted to reach our nearest neighbor in recent weeks. Two of the landers -- one from Japan’s space agency and another from Texas-based Intuitive Machines -- touched down on the lunar surface but toppled over, creating challenges for their respective mission operators. A third moon-bound mission, from Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, suffered a propellant leak shortly after launch that prevented it from even attempting a landing.

The most recent visit, by Intuitive Machines, made history on February 22 when it became the first commercial company to achieve a soft lunar touchdown in a mission that was also the first U.S. lunar landing in more than 50 years.

Read more
Lunar lander is on its side on the moon’s surface
On Feb. 22, 2024, Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lunar lander captures a wide field of view image of Schomberger crater on the Moon approximately 125 miles (200 km) uprange from the intended landing site, at approximately about 6 miles (10 km) altitude.

NASA has shared more details about yesterday's historic moon landing, when Intuitive Machines became the first commercial company to successfully touch down on the moon's surface. The company shared an image taken by its Odysseus lander of its view of the Schomberger crater on the moon's southern hemisphere as it came in to land, taken at an altitude of around 6 miles from the surface.

On February 22, 2024, Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lunar lander captured this wide field of view image of Schomberger crater on the moon. Intuitive Machines

Read more