The NASA presented its plan to send a new vehicle, the VIPER, to the lunar surface. According to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, VIPER will travel the south pole of the Moon and assess where the frozen water is.
The US space agency notes that the Moon has vast reservoirs of water ice (H2O) in quantities that could reach millions of tons. Water would have fundamental utility in sustaining a future human presence on the lunar surface.
NASA plans to land the VIPER – Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover – on the Moon in December 2022, before the Artemis program. When it reaches the lunar surface, a golf cart-sized rover will collect data for approximately 100 days, traveling for several kilometers. VIPER will use four scientific instruments, including a 1-meter drill, to take soil samples.
The VIPER Lunar Rover will use the Neutron Spectrometer System to detect “wet” areas below the surface for further investigation. And whenever it will find the one, it will then stop and deploy a drill, The Regolith and Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrain to dig up soil cuttings from up to a meter beneath the surface. These samples will be then sent to the VIPER’s other two instruments – the Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations, or MSolo and the Near InfraRed Volatiles Spectrometer System – to determine the composition and concentration of potentially accessible resources, including water.
“Since the confirmation of lunar water-ice ten years ago, the question now is if the Moon could really contain the number of resources we need to live off-world. This Lunar rover will help us answer the many questions we have about where the water is and how much there is for us to use,” said Daniel Andrews, the project manager of the VIPER mission and director of engineering at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.
NASA’s Artemis program intends to send astronauts back to the lunar surface after 52 years in 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on Earth’s natural satellite. The mission’s initial plan is to land two astronauts (One man, one woman) at the south pole of the Moon, who will live and work outside the lunar module for six and a half days, the agency said.