Astrobotic select Falcon Heavy to carry NASA water-hunting VIPER rover

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy will launch NASA’s water-hunting VIPER rover carried aboard an Astrobotic Griffin lander in 2023.
NASA’s VIPER rover is expected to map water ice deposits on the surface of the Moon remaining operational for 100 days | Image credit: NASA Ames/Daniel Rutter

Pittsburgh-based space technology company Astrobotic has selected the SpaceX Falcon Heavy to launch its Griffin lunar lander carrying a NASA rover.

Announced April 13, the launch is slated for late 2023 and will carry NASA’s water-hunting Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER). Astrobotic was awarded the $199.5 million contract to carry VIPER in June 2020 as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.

“Getting to the Moon isn’t just about building a spacecraft but having a complete mission solution,” said Daniel Gillies, mission director for Astrobotic. “SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy completes our Griffin Mission 1 (GM1) solution by providing a proven launch vehicle to carry us on our trajectory to the Moon.”

Astrobotic’s Griffin lander is the company’s medium-class platform and is capable of delivering up to 500 kilograms to the lunar surface. Many of the Griffin’s subsystems are shared with the company’s smaller Peregrine lander, which is set to debut later this year.

Peregrine Mission 1, is slated to be launched aboard the maiden flight of the United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur in July. It will carry 14 instruments for NASA as part of the agency’s CLPS initiative. It will also carry several commercial payloads including a number of rovers and a payload for popular YouTuber MrBeast.

VIPER’s hunt for water

Once launched in 2023, NASA’s VIPER rover will roll down the ramps of the Griffin lander onto the surface of the Moon to begin its hunt for water ice deposits. The data the rover collects could be the first step towards building a sustainable presence on the surface of the Moon.

“Astrobotic’s lunar logistics services were created to open a new era on the Moon,” said Astrobotic CEO John Thornton. “Delivering VIPER to look for water and setting the stage for the first human crew since Apollo embodies our mission as a company.”

VIPER will incorporate several firsts for NASA including being its first rover to be equipped with headlights, which will enable it to explore permanently shadowed regions of the Moon. The 430-kilogram rover is expected to remain operational for 100 days on the lunar surface.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.