NASA has decided who will deliver the VIPER to the moon

Rodiano Bonacci
Giugno 14, 2020

NASA has selected a company to fly its VIPER Moon rover to the Moon, for a mission which will be a crucial step in its Artemis program as it will help the agency determine where and how it can establish a long-term presence on the lunar surface.

"The VIPER rover and the commercial partnership that will deliver it to the Moon are a prime example of how the scientific community and USA industry are making NASA's lunar exploration vision a reality", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The move comes as the space agency is ramping up its effort to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, a schedule that is considered a long shot by many.

VIPER's flight to the Moon is part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, which is partnering with U.S. companies to deliver scientific cargo to the Moon.

The Pittsburgh-based company will receive $199.5 million under the new fixed-price contract, which tasks the company with building and testing a lander spacecraft that can ferry NASA's robotic rover, VIPER, to the lunar surface.

This will be Astrobotic's second lunar lander after its Peregrine lander touches down in 2021 on another CLPS mission.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Associate Administrator for Science, said: "CLPS is a totally creative way to advance lunar exploration".

The VIPER rover is scheduled to launch sometime late 2023 and will explore the region near the south pole of the Moon.

Astrobotic's part in this will be to integrate VIPER on the company's medium-capacity Griffin lunar lander, which can deliver loads of up to 1,100 lb (500 kg) to the lunar surface. The approximately 1,000-pound VIPER rover will spend about 100 days on the lunar surface, during which it will roam several miles and use its four science instruments to sample various soil environments.

VIPER will collect data - including the location and concentration of ice - that will be used to inform the first global water resource maps of the Moon. These data will also serve as the basis for choosing the landing sites for manned vehicles.

Humans may be destined to explore the solar system (and perhaps beyond, but the jury is still out on that), but first, it's probably a good idea that we explore the closest "world" to Earth, which happens to be our own Moon.

Three of these instruments will hunt for water and similar versions will be tested on CLPS missions in 2021 and 2022. The Viper will be carried to the lunar surface by Astrobotic's Griffin lander. In April, the agency released a call for potential future lunar surface investigations and received more than 200 responses.

"The discovery of water ice at the poles is potentially a massive breakthrough for commercial opportunities in space because we can turn that water into rocket fuel", said John Thornton, Astrobotic's CEO.

Astrobotic also holds one of the first two missions under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, to deliver a lander carrying small science and technology payloads on the moon next year. "Delivering VIPER to look for water and setting the stage for the first human crew since Apollo embodies our mission as a company".

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