NASA is already pulling together plans for what could become its first long-lived robotic rover on the moon's surface, designed to sniff out water and targeting a landing date of 2022.
Right now, that rover, called Volatiles Investigation Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), is still a mission concept. If all goes well, the project could develop a long-lived, mobile robot that can hunt for water and other volatiles near the south pole of the moon. And VIPER has a head start, since the would-be mission builds on previous NASA development conducted as part of a project called Resource Prospector, which was axed in 2018. This time around, the rover would reflect the Artemis program, NASA's initiative to land humans on the moon in 2024.
"We are heavily ensconced in the intersection between science and exploration," Brad Bailey, program scientist with NASA's Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program, said about NASA's lunar program during a Planetary Science Advisory Committee meeting held in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23. Volatiles are an area of particular overlap between the two programs, hence VIPER's relevance to both.
Related: Water Ice Confirmed on the Surface of the Moon for the 1st Time!
On the science side, understanding how water arrived at our closest neighbor would explain how Earth got its own water, even though plate tectonics has destroyed the geologic record of that era. Would-be explorers are on the hunt for fuel or even drinking water they could generate from stores of ice.
But in both cases, the first step is figuring out where the water is and that's what VIPER is designed to do, not only at the south pole, where it would land, but over the entire lunar surface. "The idea is that that mission is a very important part of looking for volatiles, looking for these potential resources on the lunar surface," Debra Needham, a planetary scientist at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center, told Space.com. "It's a highly desired mission under formulation."
Scientists have confirmed the existence of sizable chunks of frozen water on the moon only over the past decade. But as it stands right now, NASA's last soft-landed mission to the moon was Apollo 17 in 1972, when humans last set foot on the moon. The agency has also only flown lunar rovers designed to work with humans, during the latter three Apollo missions. These rovers carried some instruments but primarily served as transportation devices for astronauts.
That means that although VIPER won't necessarily be the first mission to land in NASA's new, moon-focused Artemis era, it could be NASA's first lunar rover in decades and the agency's first independent rover ever.
The combination means that there are plenty of new capabilities NASA wants to build into such a mission. A particularly high priority for the agency is to design a rover that can power through the dramatic temperature swings between night and day. A couple of long-duration lunar rovers the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 and the Chinese Yutu rovers have slept through the night, woken up and resumed work.
But NASA wants to do something more: The agency wants VIPER and other future missions to keep gathering data through the night, without shutting down for safety. "One of the biggest technologies that needs to be developed is being able to survive and operate through the lunar night," Needham said.
Working through the night would double the amount of observations a rover could make in the same mission duration, which is of course appealing. But full-time observing would also offer crucial science data about phenomena that aren't observable during the lunar day. In particular, Needham said, scientists think that at dawn and dusk, dust may levitate and electrical currents could form in the lunar surface.
VIPER would let engineers test technologies designed to let lunar rovers work through the night, but it wouldn't tackle those specific science measurements. Instead, according to Bailey's presentation last month, there are four primary instruments that NASA is eyeing for VIPER.
Two of those instruments were under development for Resource Prospector; NASA also included both in a list of a dozen instruments selected in February to land on the moon as early as this year. (Bailey said they are scheduled to fly on board Astrobotic's lunar lander, which is due to fly in the summer of 2021.)
Those projects are the Neutron Spectrometer System, which measures hydrogen in the lunar surface; and the Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System, or NIRVSS, which can study volatile composition, mineralogy and surface temperature.
A third instrument NASA is eyeing for VIPER is a drill designed to reach about 3 feet (1 meter) into the lunar regolith.
Scientists have glimpsed below the moon's surface before: Astronauts on the later Apollo missions also carried a drill, and they returned subsurface samples to Earth. But volatiles literally get their name from their ability to easily evaporate away, so scientists can't be sure what volatiles disappeared from the subsurface moon rocks they have examined up close with modern technology.
VIPER would change that, as both NIRVSS and a second instrument, called Mass Spectrometer observing lunar operations (MSolo), which can analyze isotopes, will conduct their analyses not only while the rover is moving but also on material that the drill pulls to the surface.
NASA also wants to make sure that the findings of a mission like VIPER could stretch far beyond the small patch of lunar surface that the rover itself would explore. In particular, the agency wants to work with the U.S. Geological Survey to establish how to apply the rover's local findings to orbital data about the rest of the lunar surface, Jay Jenkins, program executive for exploration at NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said during a panel about NASA's commercial partnerships for lunar science at a symposium held by NASA in Huntsville, Alabama, on Sept. 12.
After all, although the south pole's apparent ice cache is particularly intriguing to scientists and would-be explorers, it isn't the only water on the moon. "Ultimately, we really are trying to ground-truth all of the orbital data that we have, in terms of volatile, extent, composition, forms, etcetera," Bailey said during the advisory committee meeting.
Both Bailey and Jenkins said that NASA is hoping to launch VIPER in late 2022. "It's a very aggressive schedule," Jenkins said.
But that sort of timeline wouldn't be completely unprecedented, he added, pointing to NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, which he said was designed, built and executed within two years. (According to a NASA website for the mission, LCROSS was selected in April 2006; the flight concluded in October 2009. That would make for a slightly more generous timeline than VIPER would have if it hits its launch target.)
LCROSS is nothing if not a success story when it comes to understanding moon water. The mission, which launched with NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, watched a rocket stage crash into the moon and studied the debris until its own equally violent demise. The LCROSS data showed that its impact location is twice as wet as the Sahara Desert.
Email Meghan Bartels at email@example.com or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
View original post here:
- Back-to-back launches scheduled from Cape Canaveral this weekend - Spaceflight Now - May 15th, 2020
- Virgin Galactic job application looking to hire pilots for spaceflight - Business Insider - Business Insider - May 15th, 2020
- Curiosity mission team operates rover from home - SpaceFlight Insider - May 15th, 2020
- The X-37B Space Plane's Microwave Beam Experiment Is A Way Bigger Deal Than It Seems - The Drive - May 15th, 2020
- Salad seeds sent to outer space 'grew slightly slower when planted on Earth' - The Irish News - May 15th, 2020
- Pluto's wispy atmosphere may be surprisingly robust - Space.com - May 15th, 2020
- Hopeful for launch next year, NASA aims to resume SLS operations within weeks - Spaceflight Now - May 5th, 2020
- The UAE is going to Mars. Here's the plan for its Hope orbiter. - Space.com - May 5th, 2020
- Virgin Galactic readies space tourism trips with first Spaceport America flight - Digital Trends - May 5th, 2020
- UC Berkeley Lab to build NOAA space weather instrument - SpaceNews - May 5th, 2020
- Stay home, reflect and be part of something bigger: Sunita Williams to Indian students stuck in US - Economic Times - May 5th, 2020
- Soyuz launches from Kazakhstan with space station supply ship - Spaceflight Now - April 26th, 2020
- Long space flights can increase the volume of astronauts' brains - New Scientist News - April 26th, 2020
- How engineers are operating space missions from their homes - The Verge - April 26th, 2020
- A Brief History of Chimps in Space - Discover Magazine - April 26th, 2020
- Starlink satellites: When and how to see them flying over Nottinghamshire tonight - Nottinghamshire Live - April 26th, 2020
- UAE's Mars Hope Probe on its way amid Covid-19 pandemic - Khaleej Times - April 26th, 2020
- Visiting the Bottom of the Mariana Trench Sounds Pretty Appealing Right Now - Popular Mechanics - April 1st, 2020
- Welders wanted: SpaceX is hiring to ramp up production of stainless steel Starship - Space.com - April 1st, 2020
- When you can see the 'train' of Starlink satellites flying over Greater Manchester and the UK - Manchester Evening News - April 1st, 2020
- Launch of ExoMars rover delayed to 2022 Spaceflight Now - Spaceflight Now - March 13th, 2020
- NASA could have a timeline for Boeing's next Starliner flight by the end of the month - Space.com - March 13th, 2020
- A Solar System of Fire and Ice - The Atlantic - March 13th, 2020
- A new way to provide internet for the masses from space - Politico - March 13th, 2020
- 3D beating heart tissue experiment heads to Space Station - UW Medicine Newsroom - March 13th, 2020
- Watch how the only woman in space today celebrated International Women's Day - Space.com - March 13th, 2020
- The most innovative space companies of 2020 - Fast Company - March 13th, 2020
- Space mining could lead to string of human colonies on alien planets - The Sun - March 13th, 2020
- All Alone in Interstellar Space, Voyager 2 Is About to Lose Contact With Home - ScienceAlert - March 13th, 2020
- Kaboom! The Biggest Space Bloopers of 2019 - Space.com - December 27th, 2019
- 'I Can't Wait to Try It Out': Starliner's 1st Riders Welcome Capsule Back to Earth - Space.com - December 27th, 2019
- U.S. tests ways to sweep space clean of radiation after nuclear attack - Science Magazine - December 27th, 2019
- SpaceX Says A Step Closer to Launching Manned Space Mission - International Business Times - December 27th, 2019
- Christmas Eve at the Moon: Apollo 8's Historic Message Beamed to Earth Today in 1968 - Space.com - December 27th, 2019
- Hurricane season is over, but threats to Space Coast rocket launches are still out there - Florida Today - December 27th, 2019
- ULA gets the nod to launch GOES-T satellite - SpaceFlight Insider - December 27th, 2019
- 10 Things That Blasted Through Space in 2019 - Space.com - December 27th, 2019
- SpaceX poised to accelerate launch cadence with series of Starlink missions - Spaceflight Now - December 21st, 2019
- Human Spaceflight In 2020: What Lies Ahead - Forbes - December 21st, 2019
- Will commercial space flight be like Ad Astra? We went to a flight base to check it out - SYFY WIRE - December 21st, 2019
- Timeline of Soyuz launch with CSG 1 and CHEOPS - Spaceflight Now - December 21st, 2019
- Successful launch continues deployment of SpaceX's Starlink network - Spaceflight Now - November 11th, 2019
- What it takes to be a space pilot - Astronomy Magazine - November 11th, 2019
- Spaceflight alters heart cells but they quickly recover back on Earth - New Scientist News - November 11th, 2019
- 4 Things to Know About New Space Company Virgin Galactic - Motley Fool - November 11th, 2019
- Mercury is making a rare 'transit' across the sun. Here's how to watch. - NBCNews.com - November 11th, 2019
- Japanese 'Shooting-Star' Satellite to Launch on Landmark Rocket Lab Flight This Month - Space.com - November 11th, 2019
- The Importance of Spacecraft Abort Tests - Forbes - November 11th, 2019
- Buy Virgin Galactic stock because space tourism will be safer than you think, analyst says - CNBC - November 11th, 2019
- Now in space, a cutting-edge satellite the size of a shoebox, and UW students built it - Seattle Times - November 11th, 2019
- Human Heart Cells Transform in Space; Return to Normal on Earth: Study - The Weather Channel - November 11th, 2019
- NASA Marshall expands ties with UA to advance in-space manufacturing - Made In Alabama - November 11th, 2019
- Can We Genetically Engineer Humans to Survive Missions to Mars? - Space.com - November 11th, 2019
- NASA's SOFIA Observatory: The Flying Telescope - Space.com - November 11th, 2019
- Massive Space Explosion Releases as Much Energy in 20 Seconds as Sun Does in 10 Days - The Weather Channel - November 11th, 2019
- Airstream Enjoys Return to U.S. Space Program in Partnership with Boeing - Chief Executive Group - November 11th, 2019
- 'Star Trek,' Space Travel and Teleportation with Tig Notaro - Space.com - November 11th, 2019
- Space station receives spacewalking gear, new baking oven - Spaceflight Now - November 6th, 2019
- A Journey to Mars Starts on the Space Station - Space.com - November 6th, 2019
- Historic space flight artifacts donated by legendary cosmonaut displayed at space museum in Weatherford - KFOR Oklahoma City - November 6th, 2019
- Virgin Galactic: From Space To The Stock Market - Forbes - November 6th, 2019
- Virgin Galactic's high-risk space adventure will likely pay off - Space Daily - November 6th, 2019
- SAIC and Sinequa Align to Deliver an Intelligent Search Experience to NASA Marshall Space Flight Center SAIC and Sinequa Align to Deliver an... - November 6th, 2019
- Mars Society Founder Makes Case for 'Mars Direct' Path to the Red Planet - Space.com - November 6th, 2019
- Are there any realistic spaceflight technologies from Star Wars? - MIT Technology Review - November 6th, 2019
- Virgin Galactic Stock Finds Its First Fan on Wall Street - Motley Fool - November 6th, 2019
- NASA's Voyager Spacecraft May Have 5 Years Left to Explore Interstellar Space - Space.com - November 6th, 2019
- The White House puts a price on the SLS rocketand it's a lot - Ars Technica - November 6th, 2019
- NASA Has a New Method For Cooling Down Electronics Crammed Together in a Spacecraft - Universe Today - November 6th, 2019
- Bezos says space industry stalwarts will help Blue Origin build moon lander - Spaceflight Now - October 24th, 2019
- Army astronaut to military medical students: You will solve the health issues of extended space flight - ArmyTimes.com - October 24th, 2019
- Virgin Galactic is set to trade on the NYSE on Monday as the first space tourism stock - CNBC - October 24th, 2019
- Now You Can Buy The Worlds First Spaceship Stock - Forbes - October 24th, 2019
- Rocket Lab Aims for the Moon and Beyond with New Photon Satellite Platform - Space.com - October 24th, 2019
- Here's What China's Yutu 2 Rover Found on the Far Side of the Moon (Photos) - Space.com - October 24th, 2019
- China Releases a New Photo of The Mystery Substance They Found on The Moon - ScienceAlert - October 24th, 2019
- DLR pursues international cooperation and future technologies for spaceflight - Space Daily - October 24th, 2019
- Finally, a Clear Look at the Weird Substance China Found on the Moon - VICE - October 24th, 2019
- Suborbital spacefliers will get pinned by the Association of Space Explorers - GeekWire - October 24th, 2019
- The space powers have gathered. Wheres China? - Quartz - October 24th, 2019