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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.

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