NASA is looking for liquid gold on the moon – not oil, but plain old water. If we are to have a constant presence there, we will need it so that learning as much as possible about it is crucial. That's why the agency sends a rover, called VIPER, to the south pole of the moon – its first long-term surface mission since 1972.
VIPER, or Volatiles, checking Rover Exploration Rover, will touch in December 2022 if everything goes as needed plan. Its mission: to directly monitor and quantify the availability of water in permanently shaded polar regions.
These permanently dark areas of the moon have been collecting water ice for millions of years because there is no sunlight to melt or evaporate it. NASA has already confirmed the presence of water ice, breaking the probe in the common area, but that's a bit rough, isn't it? It is better to send a robot to make some accurate measurements.
The VIPER will be the size of a golf cart and will be equipped with what is the required equipment. Its neutron spectrometer system (mentioned yesterday by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein before the announcement) will allow the rover to detect water below the surface.
When over water, VIPER will deploy … Regolith and ice training to explore a new terrain or TRIDENT. Definitely the best redundancy I've encountered this week. TRIDENT is a meter-long drill that will sample for analysis with two other rover instruments, a pair of spectrometers that will measure soil content.
By doing this systematically over a large area, the team hopes to create a map of water deposits beneath the surface that can be analyzed for larger models ̵
The rover is currently under development, as you can see from the pictures above – the correct image is its "mobility testing" which, as you might guess, allows the team to try out how to get around.
VIPER is a limited mission; the work of the poles means that there is no sunlight to harvest the solar panels, so the rover will carry all the power it needs to last there for about a hundred days. This is longer than the US has spent on the surface of the moon in a long time – although China has been actively using rovers everywhere in the last few years.
Interestingly, the rover is scheduled to be deployed through a commercial lunar payload contract, which means that one of these companies can build land that takes it out of orbit on the surface. Expect to hear more as we get closer to the release.