SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will launch NASA's Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the Moon's South Pole in 2023. Falcon Heavy is currently the world’s most powerful operational rocket, composed of three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines generate over 5 million pounds upon liftoff. Falcon Heavy will launch from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying VIPER to the lunar surface aboard Astrobotic's Griffin Lunar Lander. Upon arrival, the Griffin Lunar Lander will land on the lunar surface and VIPER will disembark from Griffin’s ramps to survey and seek for subsurface water ice.
On September 20, NASA announced that it selected a landing location. “We’ve selected the landing site for our VIPER Moon rover! VIPER will land near Nobile Crater at the Moon’s South Pole in 2023. There, during its 100-day mission, the rover will search for water and other resources,” the agency shared. VIPER will roam across Nobile Crater’s approximate surface area of 36 square miles (93 square kilometers). Scientists believe that the Nobile Crater was formed through a collision with a small celestial object and that the terrain has abundance of ice-water and other potential resources that researchers aim to investigate in order to learn – ‘how did water arrive on the Moon and how they remained preserved for billions of years?’ VIPER is equipped with a drill and scientific instruments that will analyze the crater’s resources and ice composition. With all the information gathered, NASA plans to create a detailed map to make an informed decision ahead of sending astronauts to build a sustainable base on the Moon.
“Selecting a landing site for VIPER is an exciting and important decision for all of us,” Daniel Andrews, VIPER project manager, said in a press release. “Years of study have gone into evaluating the polar region VIPER will explore. VIPER is going into uncharted territory—informed by science—to test hypotheses and reveal critical information for future human space exploration.”
The region where VIPER will land has never been explored scientists, they have only studied the region from Earth using remote sensing satellites. “Once on the lunar surface, VIPER will provide ground truth measurements for the presence of water and other resources at the Moon’s South Pole, and the areas surrounding Nobile Crater showed the most promise in this scientific pursuit” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “The data VIPER returns will provide lunar scientists around the world with further insight into our Moon’s cosmic origin, evolution, and history, and it will also help inform future Artemis missions to the Moon and beyond by enabling us to better understand the lunar environment in these previously unexplored areas hundreds of thousands of miles away.” You can watch the video below to learn more about NASA's VIPER Mission to the moon, courtesy of NASA.
VIDEO: Tour Of VIPER Landing Site On The Moon’s South Pole
Featured Image Source: NASA