The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) is scheduled to hitch a ride to space on a SpaceX Falcon-Heavy rocket in 2023, and will be accompanied to the Moon by Astrobotic’s Griffin lander. The plan is to land near the western edge of the Nobile Crater at the South Pole and search surrounding areas and the subsurface for water and other resources.
NASA said the Moon’s South Pole is one of the coldest environments in our solar system. No other missions to the surface of the Moon have explored the region; thus far, scientists have only been able to study it from afar using instruments attached to orbiters and satellites.
Nobile Crater was created by a collision with another smaller celestial body. This specific region of the crater was selected as the landing location due to its rover-accessible terrain and its proximity to other areas of interest, such as permanently shadowed spots. Access to lit regions was also important, as the rover will be able to use its solar panels to charge and keep warm.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA headquarters, said data from the rover will provide further insight into the origin and evolution of the Moon, and assist with future Artemis missions. Specifically, the team hopes to better understand how frozen water and other resources got on the Moon, where they came from and how they’ve remained preserved for billions of years as well as “how they escape, and where they go.”
If all goes according to plan, VIPER will be able to visit at least six areas of scientific interest during the 100-day mission, with time to spare.