NASA is preparing to send a rover to the Moon’s South Pole to study the location and concentration of ice in the region. The data collected by the rover will be used in the preparation of crewed missions to the region in 2024.
The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) is approximately the size of a golf cart. Its primary mission on the surface of the Moon is expected to span 100 days and traverse several kilometers.
VIPER will be equipped with four science instruments. The rover’s Neutron Spectrometer System will be used to detect “wet” areas below the lunar surface. Once an area has been identified, the 1-meter TRIDENT (The Regolith and Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrain) will be deployed to collect samples.
The samples will then be analyzed onboard VIPER using the Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo), and Near InfraRed Volatiles Spectrometer System (NIRVSS) instruments. MSolo and NIRVSS will be used to determine the concentration and composition of potentially accessible resources, like water.
To accurately map the potential water reserves of the Moon’s South Pole, VIPER will collect samples from different soil environments affected by the Sun. These include environments with soil in constant darkness, in occasional light and in direct sunlight.
According to NASA, the data collected during the VIPER mission will be “used to inform the first global water resource maps of the Moon.” These maps will be used for a number of other programs including NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, and the Artemis program, which is expected to return astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo missions.
NASA expects to deliver the VIPER rover to the Moon’s South Pole by December 2022. This will enable the data collected to be used during the first crewed Artemis mission to the Moon in 2024.