NASA’s first robotic lunar rover is officially under construction in Houston.
Engineers are now assembling the 1,000-pound Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER(Opens in a new window)) in a Johnson Space Center clean room. Work will continue over the next few months as technicians add avionics, power, telecommunications, mechanisms, and thermal and navigation systems, plus specialized scientific instruments and a drill.
“We’ve just completed the first few steps integrating rover components that will one day be on the surface of the Moon,” VIPER system integration and test lead David Petri said in a statement(Opens in a new window). “Hardware is coming from all over the world, including some manufactured at several NASA centers—it’s really ‘go’ time.”
Once fully kitted out, the rover must negotiate a series of stress tests measuring function, performance, and operation, as well as vibration, acoustic, and thermal-vacuum environmental trials to ensure VIPER is mission-ready.
Meanwhile, 2,000 miles away at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, scientists continue developing and assessing VIPER’s brains ahead of its target lunar landing date of Nov. 10, 2024—chosen to ensure the solar-powered rover receives the most possible sunlight as it explores Moon mountain Mons Mouton.
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NASA is currently on track for a mid-2024 delivery of VIPER to Astrobotic of Pittsburgh, which, as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, will launch VIPER to the Moon’s South Pole late next year.
Once there, the robot will study the environment in hopes of better understanding the origin and distribution of lunar water and other potential resources that, according to NASA, may be harvested to sustain humans on the Moon for the Artemis program and future human exploration in deep space.
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