In 2023, NASA’s Volatile Polar Exploration Vehicle (VIPER) will land near the western edge of the Nobile crater on the moon’s south pole to map the region’s surface and subsurface and survey water and other resources. VIPER, part of Artemis, will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon-Heavy rocket and transported to the Moon by Astrobotic’s Griffin lander as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
The Moon’s south pole is one of the coldest regions in our solar system. There have been no missions to the lunar surface to investigate – scientists have so far only studied the area using remote sensing instruments, including those on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Moon Crater Monitoring and Sensing Satellite. Data from these and other missions helped scientists conclude that ice and other potential resources are in permanently shaded regions of the moon near the poles. After an extensive landing site selection process, the mountainous area west of Nobile Crater was selected as the VIPER landing site due to the terrain accessible from the rover and the range of nearby sites of scientific interest, including permanently shaded areas.
“Once it reaches the lunar surface, VIPER will provide real-world measurements of the presence of water and other resources at the lunar south pole, and the areas around Noble Crater have shown the greatest hope in this scientific endeavour,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate director of science. at NASA headquarters. “The data VIPER brings will help lunar scientists around the world understand the cosmic origin, evolution and history of our moon, and it will also aid future Artemis missions to the moon and beyond by enabling us to better understand the lunar environment in these previously undiscovered regions hundreds of thousands of miles away. “.
Nobile Crater is a crater caused by the impact of a smaller celestial body, and is almost always covered in shadows, allowing ice to exist. The small, easily accessible craters that surround Nobile’s surroundings will also provide ideal locations for VIPER exploration in their quest for ice and other resources. “Choosing a landing site for VIPER is an exciting and important decision for all of us,” said Daniel Andrews, VIPER project manager. “Years of study have gone into evaluating the polar region that VIPER will explore. Weber is venturing into uncharted territory – informed by science – to test hypotheses and uncover important information for future human space exploration.”
The NASA team evaluated the viable paths for the rover, considering where VIPER could use its solar panels for charging and heating during its 100-day journey. The area in Nobile Crater offers a lot of flexibility. VIPER’s current planned route allows the vehicle to visit at least six sites of scientific interest, while saving additional time. “Our assessment of the landing site was driven by scientific priorities,” said Anthony Collabrett, chief scientist for the VIPER project at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. “We are looking for answers to some very complex questions, and studying these resources on the Moon, which have stood the test of time, will help us answer them.”
The VIPER team wants to investigate how frozen water and other resources got to the moon. They also plan to find out where they came from, how they have been preserved for billions of years, how they escape and where they are going.
VIPER Journey through the Nobile District
The area that VIPER will study in the Nobile region covers an area of 93 square kilometers, and it is expected that VIPER will traverse 16-24 kilometers in the course of its mission. During this time, the rover will visit carefully selected areas of scientific interest that will provide greater insight into a variety of different types of lunar environments. The VIPER team will attempt to characterize ice and other resources in these areas using VIPER and boron sensors.
As VIPER moves into each area of scientific interest, it will collect samples from at least three drilling sites. Analyzing these samples from different depths and temperatures will help scientists better predict where more ice will be on the moon based on similar topography, allowing NASA to create a global resource map. This map and other scientific data that VIPER will provide will enable scientists to better understand the distribution of resources on the Moon and help future manned missions establish a long-term presence on the Moon.