Astrobotic selected to land NASA VIPER rover on the Moon
NASA has awarded Astrobotic a US$199.5-million contract to deliver the space agency's Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the Moon's south pole in late 2023. The Pittsburgh-based lunar logistics company will provide end-to-end delivery of the unmanned water-prospecting rover under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.
When NASA returns US astronauts to the Moon in 2024, the goal is to establish a permanent manned presence there. Under the agency's Artemis program, a lunar base will be set up, with two payload landings a year through CLPS providing delivery opportunities. However, because the costs of traveling to the Moon are still staggeringly high, future crews will have to live off the land as much as possible by finding and exploiting lunar resources.
To help with this ambitious task, NASA is sending its VIPER rover to the Moon. Equipped with a suite of instruments for prospecting for water ice on or beneath the surface, 1,000-lb (450-kg) VIPER will spend 100 days roaming the lunar south polar region over a distance of several miles and drilling up to 3 ft (0.9 m) into the soil.
Astrobotic's part in this will be to integrate VIPER on the company's medium-capacity Griffin lunar lander, which can deliver loads of up to 1,100 lb (500 kg) to the lunar surface. The company will also be responsible for launch and landing operations.
This will be Astrobotic's second lunar lander after its Peregrine lander touches down in 2021 on another CLPS mission. According to the company, Griffin shares many of the same subsystems as Peregrine.
"It is an enormous honor and responsibility to be chosen by NASA to deliver this mission of national importance," says Astrobotic CEO John Thornton. "Astrobotic’s lunar logistics services were created to open a new era on the Moon. Delivering VIPER to look for water and setting the stage for the first human crew since Apollo embodies our mission as a company."
The NASA video below discusses the VIPER mission.