NASA will start building a moon to hunt for ice

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Grow up / An artist’s concept of the VIPER rover operating in the dark of the moon.

The hunt for ice on the Moon’s poles has been a hot topic in the field of lunar science since an instrument on an Indian satellite found water molecules inside the shadowy crater a decade ago. NASA has now designed a golf horse to drive in the dark polar craters check the ice field which could be used by future astronauts to make their own rocket fuel and ventilators.

“A large group of people have been working on this idea for 10-plus years,” said Anthony Colaprete, project scientist for NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission.

Earlier this year, engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston began designing the rover’s chassis. In June, the space agency approved the VIPER team to hold a major meeting and test the rovers before they arrive in November 2024.

A new version of the rover

Wheeled rovers look different from NASA’s nuclear-powered robots that visit Mars. VIPER was designed to navigate the dark abyss, a place where sunlight has not reached for billions of years. Scientists have found evidence that beneath the cold, shadowed crater lies ice at or near the surface, where astronauts can harvest the water.

“Because it goes into dark places, it’s the first way to have a light,” Colaprete said Tuesday in a presentation at the NASA Exploration Science Forum. The LED headlights will cast a blue color on the Moon’s charcoal-like surface.

VIPER will also be used separately from NASA’s Mars rovers. It takes a radio signal between 5 and 20 minutes to travel at the speed of light between Earth and the red planet, but only a few seconds to make the trip to the Moon. This means that scientists can control VIPER like a drone. “We do real science,” Colaprete said.

The rover bravely travels into the depths of eternal darkness, relying on battery power for 50 hours per orbit that moves VIPER beyond the Sun’s light, always close to the horizon at the poles of the moon. The 1,000-pound (450-kilogram) spacecraft will enter winter when the moon’s wobble causes the southern tip to drift away from Earth for two weeks, cutting the direct link.

NASA announced the VIPER mission in 2019. VIPER builds on the Resource Prospector mission, which NASA canceled in 2018 when the agency adopted a commercial approach to robotic lunar exploration. This led to NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.which contains a list of companies eligible for “mission orders” to carry scientific and technological payloads to the Moon.

One of these companies is Astrobotic, which NASA selected in 2020 to deliver VIPER to a landing site near the Nobile crater, about 45 kilometers (73 miles) south of the Moon. The $200 million commercial plan allows Astrobotic to design and build a platform to carry VIPER to the Moon, a system that NASA would have developed – at a much greater cost – for the original Resource Prospector mission.

Astrobotic chose SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket to launch the company’s Griffin lander, which will take the VIPER rover to the Moon.

The entire project is expected to cost $500 million, including the rover, its science fees, and the Astrobotic contract, which covers the cost of the Falcon Heavy.

“We’re moving,” Colaprete said Tuesday. “We’re now about a year away from being sent to Astrobotic to be integrated into their Griffin lander. So a launch is on the horizon. Our nominal launch is November 10, 2024, and it’s currently five months away. We’re looking at ways we can extend the moon. one or two more than that.”

Two of VIPER’s three science instruments have already been integrated into the vehicle in Houston. The ground team will then attach solar panels, four 50-inch (50-centimeter) wheels, and a 1-meter (1-meter) long drill that will look down at the surface to measure the depth of any ice. There will also be several cameras in the car, as well as a 2.5 meter antenna on the ground.

Ice holds great promise for space exploration. Hydrogen and oxygen can be used to make electricity, rocket fuel, or converted into gas to provide space on the Moon. NASA’s Indian Chandrayaan 1 orbiter first detected the familiar signature of water on the Moon’s surface in 2009.

But first, scientists need to know exactly where the water is and how easily it is accessible.

“We are going to a place where there is more hydrogen,” Colaprete said. “I personally have no doubt that we will see water in a different way, it’s just a matter of quantity.”

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