NASA selected Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic to deliver a new lunar rover, the VIPER, to the South Pole of the moon in late 2023 to hunt for water ice, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Thursday.
NASA considers VIPER to be the first resource-mapping mission on the surface of another world. It is intended to prepare for the new Artemis human missions to the lunar surface, planned for 2024.
Ultimately the rover is aimed at developing a sustainable, long-term robotic and human presence on the moon as part of the Artemis program.
The company will provide all services related to launch and landing on the moon, as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative
The program will continue to send scientific instruments and technology demonstrations to the Moon.
About the size of a golf cart, the VIPER rover will attempt to locate the most promising ice reserves. It is designed to maneuver through craters, rocks, gravel and dust.
NASA says the rover’s components are designed to withstand lunar dust, blasts of cosmic rays and dramatic swings in lighting and temperature.
“VIPER can lift each of its wheels independently, almost like feet, and use them to dig into and sweep along the surface. This gives it a swimming-like motion capable of pulling the rover out of even very soft soils,” according to NASA’s mission description.
VIPER stands for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover.
The most recent lunar rover was sent on a Chinese mission launched in 2018, which landed a rover in January 2019 on the far side of the moon.