NASA selects a landing site for its Moon rover: $433 million golf cart-sized VIPER vehicle will land near a crater at the lunar South Pole to search for water in 2023

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  • The VIPER rover will land on the Moon in search of water on and below the surface
  • It will cross the Nobel Crater, a 45-mile-wide impact crater at the Moon’s South Pole
  • The $433.5 million mission will pave the way for the 2024 crewed Artemis mission

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NASA has selected a landing site for its golf cart-sized VIPER rover, which is set to land on the Moon in 2023 in search of traces of water.

The space agency announced that the robotic vehicle will land near the western edge of Nobel Crater, a 45-mile-wide impact crater at the Moon’s south pole.

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NASA said that the terrain in the Nobile area is “best suited for the VIPER rover to navigate, communicate with, and characterize potential water and other resources”.

Nobel Crater was created through a collision with another small celestial body, and is almost permanently covered in shadow, allowing ice to exist there.

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The Moon’s South Pole is one of the coldest regions in our Solar System and has not been explored by any prior mission to the Moon’s surface.

During its 100-day journey, the $433.5 million (£306 million) VIPER rover will also explore potential landing sites for the crewed Artemis mission to the Moon a year later.

NASA’s Artemis program will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024, specifically in the lunar South Pole region.

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NASA has selected a landing site for its golf cart-sized VIPER rover, which is set to land on the Moon in 2023 in search of traces of water.

A data visualization showing the mountainous region to the west of Nobel Crater and the small craters that line its rim.  This area has areas permanently covered in shadow.

A data visualization showing the mountainous region to the west of Nobel Crater and the small craters that line its rim. This area has areas permanently covered in shadow.

Important facts about the NASA VIPER ROVER

launch: late 2023

Landing Site: south pole of the moon

Mission Duration: 100 Earth days, covering the three cycles of lunar day and night

Distance Target: 12 miles (20 kilometers)

Rover Size: Similar to a golf cart: 5 feet by 5 feet by 8 feet and 950 pounds

Onboard Equipment: 3 spectrometers and a 3.28 ft drill

Power: Solar-charged battery, maximum power of 450 watts

top speed: 0.5 mph

Communications: X-band direct-to-earth (no relay) on the Deep Space Network

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NASA said Nobel Crater, which has a diameter of 45 miles (73 km) and remains in almost constant shadow, was selected after an “extensive selection process”.

“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 around Nobel Crater showed the most promise in this scientific discovery,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator he said. Science at NASA Headquarters.

‘VIPER return data will provide lunar scientists around the world with further insight into the cosmic origin, evolution and history of our Moon.

‘It will also help inform future Artemis missions to the Moon and beyond, allowing us to better understand the lunar environment in these previously unexplored regions hundreds of thousands of miles away.’

Solar-powered, VIPER – which means Volatile Investigation Polar Exploration Rover – will be the first rover on the Moon with headlights that will help it explore regions of our natural satellite that have been in permanent darkness for billions of years.

The 5 foot by 5 foot rover weighs about 950lb, can travel at 0.5 mph and has three spectrometers – instruments that measure the wavelength and frequency of light.

Lunar South Pole with craters including Nobel annotated, imaged by Diviner, an infrared radiometer aboard NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

Lunar South Pole with craters including Nobel annotated, imaged by Diviner, an infrared radiometer aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

Nobel Crater painted by Diviner.  The area VIPER will study in the Nobel area covers an estimated surface area of ​​36 square miles (93 sq km), 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 km), of which VIPER hopes to overcome during its mission.

Nobel Crater painted by Diviner. The area VIPER will study in the Nobel area covers an estimated surface area of ​​36 square miles (93 sq km), 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 km), of which VIPER hopes to overcome during its mission.

What do we know about the lunar south pole?

The Lunar South Pole is a site of interest to scientists and agencies planning crewed missions to the Moon.

This is because water ice has been found in shady areas that have craters that never get sunlight.

The rims of the craters at the poles are constantly exposed to sunlight, but the interiors are in permanent darkness, shaded by sunlight for billions of years.

Water ice and volatile deposits are found in cold traps that are shaded from sunlight.

Orbital observations of the region have been made by NASA, including India, Russia and China, with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mapping the entire region to help future astronauts.

NASA plans to land the first woman and the next man in the lunar South Pole region as part of the first crewed landing since 1972.

They will descend in 2024, a year after the rover landed to sample water ice and explore the area.

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The VIPER team aims to find out how frozen water and other resources got to the Moon for the first time.

They also plan to identify where they came from, how they were preserved for billions of years, how they fled and where they went.

Smaller, more accessible craters around Nobile’s perimeter would also provide VIPER the ideal place to investigate in search of ice.

So far, scientists have studied Nobel Crater only using remote sensing instruments, including NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, both of which were launched in June 2009.

Data from these and other missions helped scientists conclude that the Moon’s permanently shadowed regions near the poles contained ice and other potential resources.

Daniel Andrews, VIPER Project Manager, said, “Selecting the landing site for VIPER is an exciting and important decision for all of us.

Years of study have gone into evaluating the polar region that VIPER will explore.

‘Viper is going into the unknown…

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