NASA starts to build its first robotic lunar rover VIPER

"It’s really ‘go’ time.”
Deena Theresa
NASA’s first robotic lunar rover is officially coming together.
NASA’s first robotic lunar rover is officially coming together.


Last September, Interesting Engineering reported on NASA finalizing the landing site for its lunar rover called VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover). And today, we have news that NASA has begun work on its first robotic lunar rover.

"I'm super excited…it makes me very proud of all the time and effort the team has invested to get this far," David Petri, system integration and test lead for VIPER, said in a statement. The team recently began assembling the 1,000-pound rover at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

According to the release, engineers have fastened the rover's lower chassis plate and the lower parts of the frame that will support VIPER in its entirety. Currently, it sits on top of a set of risers on a specialized lift table at NASA Johnson Space Center.

VIPER aims to explore and study the Moon's environment to better understand the origin and distribution of lunar water and other resources. These findings could be imperative to determine how the resources can be harvested for future human space exploration.

"We've just completed the first few steps integrating rover components that will one day be on the surface of the Moon," said Petri. "Hardware is coming in from all over the world, including some manufactured at several NASA centers – it's really 'go' time."

Teams work hard as the lunar landing date approaches

It is. A few days ago, a modified commercial off-the-shelf mass spectrometer built to withstand the harsh lunar environment safely arrived at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSOLO) will help VIPER's mission science team analyze the chemical makeup of the lunar soil and study water on the surface of the Moon, as per a release.

In the next few months, engineers and technicians will add subsystems such as avionics, power, telecommunications, mechanisms, thermal systems, and navigation systems onto the rover, including specialized scientific instruments. Post integration, the rover will have to prove its efficiency through a series of stressful functions, performance, and operational tests. It must also perform fail in vibration, acoustic, and thermal-vacuum environmental tests.

That's not it.

At NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, software engineers are busy developing and testing the brains of the rover before it is incorporated with the hardware. November 10, 2014, was chosen as the lunar landing date as the solar-powered rover would receive the most sunlight possible with it making frequent stops to study and explore a portion of the large flat-topped Moon mountain Mons Mouton.

Keeping the date in mind, the rover's science team will plan the best path for the rover to take so that their results can be maximized while outrunning cold and dark shadows.

NASA will deliver VIPER in mid-2024 to Astrobotic of Pittsburgh, ahead of a launch in late-2024. And in turn, Astrobotic is scheduled to deliver VIPER to the Moon's South Pole aboard its Griffin lander as part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative.

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