NASA's latest rover will search for water ice on moon
September 22, 2021 - NASA’s new VIPER rover is set to search a lunar crater for ice – which could provide drinking water, air and rocket fuel needed for future manned missions to the moon.
In 2023, NASA will send a robotic rover to look for water-ice near a crater at the Moon’s south pole.
The golf buggy-sized lander (around 1.4m × 1.4m × 2m) will touchdown next to Nobile Crater, a 73km-wide indentation lying almost permanently in shadow, where temperatures can fall as low as -223°C.
The $660 million VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) mission is intended to support plans for human exploration of the Moon, with any ice discovered to be mapped for later mining – a potential source of drinking water, air to breathe or even rocket fuel.
The lunar vehicle will navigate areas of interest around Nobile Crater, drilling for subsurface samples using a 1m-long boring tool store in its belly.
NASA’s Artemis programme will see the first woman and the first person of colour land on the Moon, with the ultimate goal of building a long-term human base there in coming years.
Humankind’s mission to return to the Moon will begin in 2022, with an unmanned test flight of the Orion space capsule. A human landing is expected to occur by the third mission in 2024, the first such mission since 1972 (a gap of 52 years).
VIPER will hitch a ride on a static lander bound for the Moon in November 2023.