NASA’s VIPER rover will land on the Moon’s Nobile crater

Animation showing where VIPER will land on the Moon.
GIF: NASA/Gizmodo

After much deliberation, NASA has chosen an intriguing location for its next Artemis rover mission: the rugged rim of an impact crater near the Moon’s south pole.

the Volatiles investigates the polar exploration rover (VIPER) will be placed just outside the western rim of Nobile Crater, NASA announcement Monday. This ancient crater, located near the south pole of the Moon, is a very dark, cold and shady place, allowing the preservation of water ice. VIPER will have to survive the freezing temperatures there during its planned 100-day mission to the Moon, scheduled for November 2023.

Indeed, the lunar south pole is one of the coldest places in the solar system. No space agency has ever attempted to land there, and it has only been studied remotely. Evidence suggests that water ice exists in significant quantities in the southern polar regions, hiding in shadowy craters and cold traps. By sending VIPER to Nobile Crater, NASA hopes to discover signs of this ice and other resources, both on and below the surface of the Moon.

“The data returned by VIPER will provide lunar scientists around the world with deeper insight into the cosmic origin, evolution and history of our Moon, and they will also help inform future Artemis missions to the Moon and beyond by allowing us to better understand the lunar environment in these previously unexplored areas hundreds of thousands of miles away,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement.

Overall, NASA wants to create a map of global resources and be able to predict where similar resources might exist elsewhere on the Moon. This information will be useful for future crewed missions to the lunar surface, while furthering NASA’s goal of establishing a long-term presence on the Moon. The $433.5 million VIPER mission could also set the stage for future surface mining efforts.

VIPER conceptual image.

VIPER conceptual image.
Picture: NASA Ames/Daniel Rutter

VIPER will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket and be delivered to the lunar surface via Astrobotic’s Griffin Lander. The 8-foot-tall (2.5-meter) rover is expected to travel between 10 and 15 miles (16-24 km) during the mission, during which it will explore an area measuring 36 square miles (93 square kilometers). ).

Nobile Crater features accessible terrain and a host of nearby sites worthy of scientific exploration, including a bunch of small shaded craters that VIPER can explore with its headlights – the first for an off-world rover. The four-wheeled rover also features an advanced suspension system to help it navigate even the softest regoliths. Several spectrometers and a hammer drill will support VIPER’s scientific efforts.

Data visualization showing the mountainous area west of the Nobile crater.

Data visualization showing the mountainous area west of the Nobile crater.
Picture: Nasa

This mountainous region has many areas of permanent shade, but also areas exposed to the sun. These lighted areas will be critically important to the mission, as VIPER will use its solar panels to recharge and stay warm – another factor in choosing Nobile Crater.

The current plan is for VIPER to visit six separate sites of scientific interest, with “additional time to spare”, according to NASA. Samples will be extracted from at least three different drill sites and taken at different depths and temperatures. The mission could provide insight into how the Moon acquired its frozen water and other resources, how they are preserved over time, and how much escapes into space.

After: Big Moon news from NASA: there is water everywhere.

Darcy J. Skinner