NASA has selected a company to fly its VIPER Moon rover to the Moon, for a mission which will be a crucial step in its Artemis program as it will help the agency determine where and how it can establish a long-term presence on the lunar surface. NASA announced on Thursday that Astrobotic will be its commercial partner in delivering the payload, with the mission currently scheduled for a 2023 Moon surface landing.
VIPER stands for ‘Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover,’ and the roughly golf cart-sized robotic rover will be scouring the Moon’s South Pole region for water ice, as well as liquid water beneath the surface, if it exists. This is a key intermediary step for the Artemis program, which still intends to return the next American man and the first American woman to the lunar surface by 2024. Having a handy source of water will be an important part of establishing any long-term sustainable base on the Moon, since it can provide the necessary ingredients for a self-contained lunar fuel production facility.
NASA’s choice of Astrobotic for this mission is not surprising, since the agency has already contracted Astrobotic as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The company is set to transport scientific payloads to the lunar surface aboard its Peregrine lander for its first CLPS mission in 2021, using a ULA Vulcan rocket to get to the Moon. This is a separate contract, which as mentioned is timed for a 2023 window.
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