WASHINGTON – NASA Administrator Jim Bridestin announced on Oct. 25 that the agency would send a robotic crest to the moon in 2022 to look for water ice, confirming plans that have taken shape for months.
In a speech at the 70th International Astronautical Congress, Bridenstein stated that the Volatile Volatile Polar Research Mission (VIPER) would seek ice at or below the moon's surface at its south pole, a key resource for future human missions.
"We are actually on a mission at the moment when I am very pleased to announce it is called VIPER," he said. VIPER will fly to the moon on commercial land through the agency's commercial lunar payload program (CLPS).
"VIPER will rotate at the south pole of the moon and VIPER will determine where the water ice is," he continued. "We will characterize the water ice and eventually break through and find out how the water ice is embedded in the Moon's regolith."
Bridestin and others have long hinted at the presence of potentially hundreds of millions of tons of water ice on the moon as a key reason human missions go to the moon's poles. However, there is little "ground truth" about this water ice, including exactly where it is located and in what concentrations, and how difficult it would be to extract this water ice.
The $ 250 million VIPER mission will launch at the end of 2022 and operate on the south pole of the moon for 1
"It's incredibly exciting to have a rover that will go into the new and unique environment of the South Pole to find exactly where we can collect this water," said Anthony Colapret, a VIPER scientist, in a NASA statement. "VIPER will tell us which sites have the highest concentrations and how deep below the surface to go for access to water."
While Bridenstein announces the mission in this statement, agency officials discuss plans for VIPER in industry forums for few months. The rover is intended to be part of a "mobility strategy" for the lunar exploration, said Steve Clark, deputy assistant administrator for exploration at the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD), told the NASA Science Research Forum in July.
NASA has been exploring another rover mission for several years called the Resource Prospector. However, the agency canceled the mission in 2018, arguing that the agency could instead throw tools off the CLPS rover.
VIPER "makes extensive use of the Resource Prospector engineering, which we are now in the process of archiving," said Jay Jenkins, executive director of the SMD Research Office, during a panel at the Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium in September. "But unlike the Resource Prospector, we will deliver it to CLPS land."
Another key difference is the duration of the mission. The resource prospectus should have lasted only 14 days, while the VIPER mission is currently scheduled for 100 days. VIPER will take advantage of locations near the South Pole that are in sunlight for most of the lunar day to enable this long-term mission.
Jenkins acknowledged last month that the agency had a "very aggressive schedule" to launch the mission by the end of 2022. "To do this, we are using effective processes," he said, such as those for the surveillance and surveillance mission. of the Moon Crater (LCROSS), which influenced the moon in 2009 as part of the demand for water and other volatiles, a mission that went from rocking to a grave within two years. Like Resource Prospector and LCROSS, VIPER will be managed by the NASA's Ames Research Center.
The VIPER, described as the size of a golf cart, is too large to be carried to the moon by most of the CLPS landings currently under contract with NASA. The agency recently ran a ramp to the program, seeking proposals for landing facilities with improved landing capabilities capable of delivering several hundred kilograms of payloads to the surface. Proposals for this CLPS on the ramp are due to NASA in September and the agency expects to select one or more companies by the end of the year.