Artist's impression of VIPER operating in darkness.
NamesVolatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover
Mission typeExploration, resource prospecting
Mission duration100 days (planned)[1][2][3]
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft typeRobotic lunar rover
ManufacturerNASA Ames Research Center
Dry mass430 kg (950 lb)[4]
Dimensions2.45 m (8 ft 0 in) in height,
1.53 m (5 ft 0 in) in length and width[5]
Start of mission
Launch dateNovember 2024 (planned)[6][needs update?]
RocketFalcon Heavy
Launch siteKennedy Space Center, LC-39A
Moon rover
Landing dateNovember 2024[needs update?]
Landing siteMons Mouton, South pole region[7][2]
Neutron Spectrometer System (NSS)
Near InfraRed Volatiles Spectrometer System (NIRVSS)
The Regolith and Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrain (TRIDENT)
Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo)

VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) is a lunar rover developed by NASA (Ames Research Center), and currently planned to be delivered to the surface of the Moon in November 2024.[6][needs update?]The rover will be tasked with prospecting for lunar resources in permanently shadowed areas in the lunar south pole region, especially by mapping the distribution and concentration of water ice. The mission builds on a previous NASA rover concept called Resource Prospector, which was cancelled in 2018.[8]

On 11 June 2020, NASA awarded Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US$199.5 million to launch VIPER to the lunar south pole. VIPER will be carried aboard Astrobotic's Griffin lander as part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. Astrobotic is responsible for end-to-end services for delivery of VIPER, including integration with its Griffin lander, launch from Earth, and landing on the Moon.[9]

Artist's conception of the VIPER rover on the Moon (Image courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center)


Orbital survey of the Moon taken by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument on India's Chandrayaan-1 orbiter. Blue shows the spectral signature of hydroxide, green shows the brightness of the surface as measured by reflected infrared radiation from the Sun and red shows a mineral called pyroxene.
The image shows the distribution of surface ice at the Moon's south pole (left) and north pole (right) as viewed by NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) spectrometer onboard India's Chandrayaan-1 orbiter.

The VIPER rover has a size similar to a golf cart (around 1.4 × 1.4 × 2 m), and will be tasked with prospecting for lunar resources, especially for water ice, mapping its distribution, and measuring its depth and purity.[1][2] The water distribution and form must be better understood before it can be evaluated as a potential resource within any evolvable lunar or Mars campaign.[10]

The VIPER rover is part of the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program managed by the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, and it is meant to support the crewed Artemis program.[2] NASA's Ames Research Center is managing the rover project. The hardware for the rover is being designed by the Johnson Space Center, while the instruments are provided by Ames, Kennedy, and Honeybee Robotics.[2] The project manager is Daniel Andrews,[2][11] and the project scientist is Anthony Colaprete, who is implementing the technology developed for the now cancelled Resource Prospector rover.[12] The estimated cost of the mission is US$250 million in October 2019.[3] NASA said on 3 March 2021 that the new lifecycle cost for the mission is US$433.5 million.[13]

Proposed landing site of the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER)

The VIPER rover will operate on the western edge of Nobile crater on Mons Mouton in the Moon's south pole region.[7][14] It is planned to rove several kilometers, collecting data on different kinds of soil environments affected by light and temperature—those in complete darkness, occasional light and in constant sunlight.[15][2] Once it enters a permanently shadowed location, it will operate on battery power alone and will not be able to recharge them until it drives to a sunlit area. Its total operation time will be 100 Earth days.[1][2][3]

Both the launcher and the lander were competitively provided through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contractors, with Astrobotic providing the Griffin lander to deliver the rover, and SpaceX providing the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.[16] NASA is aiming to land the rover in November 2024.[6][needs update?]

Rover assembly and preparation for launch

In February 2024 the final instrument, the TRIDENT drill, was installed into the rover.[17] Later on 28 February 2024, VIPER Project Manager Dan Andrews announced that all the rover's scientific instruments were installed, and that it was more than 80% built.[18] Further progress was reported in April 2024, remaining on track for launch later in the year.[19] The rover moved to the environmental testing phase in May.[20]

Science background

Main articles: Lunar water and Lunar resources

Data obtained by Lunar Prospector,[21] Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Chandrayaan-1, and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, revealed that lunar water is present in the form of ice near the lunar poles, especially within permanently shadowed craters in the south pole region,[22][23] and present in the form of hydrated minerals in other high-latitude locations.[24]

Water may have been delivered to the Moon over geological timescales by the regular bombardment of water-bearing comets, asteroids and meteoroids,[25] or continuously produced in situ by the hydrogen ions (protons) of the solar wind impacting oxygen-bearing minerals.[21] The physical form of the water ice is unknown, but some studies suggest that it is unlikely to be present in the form of thick, pure ice deposits, and may be a thin coating on soil grains.[26][27][23]

If it is possible to mine and extract the water molecules (H
) in large amounts, it can be broken down to its elements, namely hydrogen and oxygen, and form molecular hydrogen (H
) and molecular oxygen (O
) to be used as rocket bi-propellant or produce compounds for metallurgic and chemical production processes.[28] Just the production of propellant, was estimated by a joint panel of industry, government and academic experts, identified a near-term annual demand of 450 metric tons of lunar-derived propellant equating to 2450 metric tons of processed lunar water, generating US$2.4 billion of revenue annually.[29]

Science payload

The VIPER rover will be equipped with a drill and three analyzers. The Neutron Spectrometer System (NSS), will detect sub-surface water from a distance, then, VIPER will stop at that location and deploy a 1 m (3 ft 3 in) drill called TRIDENT to obtain samples to be analyzed by its two onboard spectrometers:[2][3][30]

The NIRVSS instrument
Instrument name Abbr. Provider Function[31]
Neutron Spectrometer System
Ames Research Center (NASA) Detect sub-surface hydrogen (potentially water) from a distance, suggesting prime sites for drilling. It measures the energy released by hydrogen atoms when struck by neutrons. Originally developed for the Resource Prospector rover.[10]
The Regolith and Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrain
1-m drill will obtain subsurface samples.
Near InfraRed Volatiles Spectrometer System
Ames Research Center (NASA) Analyze mineral and volatile composition; determine if the hydrogen it encounters belong to water molecules (H2O) or to hydroxyl (OH). Originally developed for the Resource Prospector rover.[10]
Sub-systems: Spectrometer Context Imager (a broad-spectrum camera); Longwave Calibration Sensor (measures surface temperature at very small scales).
Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations
Kennedy Space Center (NASA) Analyze mineral and volatile composition. Measures the mass-to-charge ratio of ions to elucidate the chemical elements contained in the sample.

See also


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  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Loff, Sarah (25 October 2019). "New VIPER Lunar Rover to Map Water Ice on the Moon". NASA.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ a b c d Bartels, Meghan (25 October 2019). "NASA Will Launch a Lunar VIPER to Hunt Moon Water in 2022". Retrieved 13 April 2021.
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  6. ^ a b c "NASA Replans CLPS Delivery of VIPER to 2024 to Reduce Risk". NASA. 18 July 2022. Retrieved 18 July 2022.
  7. ^ a b Wright, Ernie; Ladd, David; Colaprete, Anthony; Ladd, David (20 September 2021). "NASA Scientific Visualization Studio". SVS. Retrieved 27 October 2023.
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