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NASA’s VIPER Rover Navigates Terrifying Lunar Terrain Ahead of Uncrewed 2024 Mission

TL;DR

  • NASA’s VIPER rover undergoes rigorous testing to navigate challenging lunar terrain for successful mission disembarkation.
  • VIPER’s landing site at Mons Mouton offers high elevation, ample sunshine, and potential water ice, making it a vital location for resource exploration.
  • VIPER serves as a pathfinder for future human landings, equipped with headlights and a drill for enhanced exploration capabilities

NASA is making significant progress in constructing its first-ever robotic lunar rover, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER). The rover is scheduled for launch in late 2024, but the exact conditions it will encounter on the Moon remain uncertain. To prepare for any terrain challenges, engineers have conducted a series of tests to determine VIPER’s capabilities, focusing on its ability to disembark from its lander even in highly uneven environments.

Testing VIPER’s Egress scenarios

During the testing phase, engineers explored various “bounding” cases for VIPER’s egress on the Moon. These scenarios encompassed the worst-case high-pitch, worst-case roll, and the worst-case combination of pitch and roll. Jasper Wolfe, VIPER egress test lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, stated, “Through this series, we’ve tested all of the ‘bounding’ cases for VIPER’s egress on the Moon. This included the worst-case high-pitch scenario using the steepest – and scariest – ramps, the worst-case roll scenario using the most uneven ramps, and the worst-case scenario with pitch and roll combined.”

Moon Gravitation representative Unit 3 (MGRU3) Prototype

To simulate the rover’s expected behavior under the Moon’s gravity, approximately one-sixth of Earth’s, engineers employed a prototype called Moon Gravitation Representative Unit 3 (MGRU3). These tests provided crucial insights into VIPER’s performance and its ability to navigate the lunar landscape effectively.

The Astrobotic Griffin lunar lander, responsible for transporting VIPER to the Moon, features a ramp system that adapts to the surrounding terrain. However, this adaptability allows one side of the ramp to be inclined more steeply than the other. The testing regime aims to ensure that VIPER can compensate for such irregularities and overcome any challenges that may arise.

VIPER’s planned landing site is Mons Mouton, a flat-topped mountain near the Moon’s south pole. It is named after Melba Mouton, an Apollo-era computer programmer. Mons Mouton offers several advantages for VIPER’s mission, including high elevation and ample sunshine, essential for the rover’s solar-powered operations. Moreover, signs of water ice beneath the surface make this location particularly intriguing, as VIPER will attempt to confirm and map the presence.

VIPER’s role as a pathfinder

VIPER is a precursor to human landings at the Moon’s south pole as part of NASA’s Artemis program planned for the coming decade. The rover’s primary objectives include resource exploration and a better understanding of water storage within deep-shadowed craters and the lunar regolith. VIPER will be the first rover equipped with headlights, enabling it to peer into the dark craters. Additionally, it is equipped with a drill capable of digging up to 1 meter beneath the lunar surface.

The Falcon Heavy rocket will transport the rover and its lander to the Moon as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program next year. The mission is expected to last approximately 100 days, including the challenge of surviving several long lunar nights.

A historic achievement for NASA

While NASA has previously built lunar rovers that successfully traversed over 90 kilometers with Apollo astronauts, an uncrewed and remotely operated lunar rover will be a first for the agency. Lunar rovers have distinct engineering requirements compared to Mars rovers, like Perseverance. The Moon’s lack of atmosphere results in extreme temperature variations of over 260 degrees Celsius and night periods lasting up to a week. However, the proximity of the Moon to Earth allows VIPER to be driven in real-time, providing advantages not possible with Mars rovers.

Testing efforts are ongoing to ensure VIPER’s readiness for its 2024 launch. The launch has been timed to coincide with the “Spring” season at the lunar pole, providing more daylight and extended exploration opportunities for the rover.

NASA’s VIPER rover undergoes extensive testing to navigate the challenging lunar terrain it will encounter during its mission. The successful development of VIPER will pave the way for resource exploration and an enhanced understanding of water storage on the Moon, bringing NASA closer to future crewed missions to the lunar surface.

What were the past missions of lunar rovers?

NASA is looking for liquid gold on the Moon — not oil, but plain-old water. If we’re going to have a permanent presence there, we’ll need it, so learning as much as we can about it is crucial. That’s why the agency is sent the first rover called VIPER to the Moon’s south pole — its first long-term surface mission since 1972.

VIPER, or the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, touched down in December 2022 according to plan. Its mission: directly observe and quantify water in the permanently shadowed polar regions. A long list of accomplishments is collated here for those who want to follow up on NASA’s missions,

These perennially dark areas of the Moon have been collecting water ice for millions of years, since there’s no sunlight to melt or vaporize it. NASA already confirmed the presence of water ice by crashing a probe into the general area, but that’s a bit crude, isn’t it? Could they have sent a robot in to take some precise measurements? This will become a reality in 2024 because of AI: the uncrewed and remotely operated lunar rover will be a NASA first!

NASA worked with its partners and the private sector to advance sustainable aviation by developing and testing new green technologies that will revolutionize air transportation. The knowledge and technology generated by the agency will provide regulators and industry with new ways to integrate sustainable solutions.

Disclaimer: The information provided is not trading advice. Cryptopolitan.com holds no liability for any investments made based on the information provided on this page. We strongly recommend independent research and/or consultation with a qualified professional before making any investment decision.

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John Palmer

John Palmer is an enthusiastic crypto writer with an interest in Bitcoin, Blockchain, and technical analysis. With a focus on daily market analysis, his research helps traders and investors alike. His particular interest in digital wallets and blockchain aids his audience.

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