NASA Asks Commercial Delivery Partners To Fly Rover To Moon (Photo Credit: NASA)
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has asked its 14 Commercial Lunar Payload Services companies to bid on flying VIPER to the Moon by 2023. It is to be noted that VIPER, or Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, is a golf-cart sized mobile robot that will look for water ice at one of the Moon’s poles.
During the mission, VIPER will roam several miles and use its four science instruments — including a 1-meter drill — to sample various soil environments. It will collect up to 100 days of data that will be used to inform the first global water resource maps of the Moon.
VIPER will help NASA get a close-up view of the location and concentration of water ice that could eventually be harvested to sustain human exploration on the Moon, and help pave the way for astronaut missions to the Moon beginning in 2024. The ability to send payloads of varying sizes to the Moon is a key part of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration efforts.
NASA already has awarded two companies with missions to deliver science to the Moon in 2021 and issued a separate task order in early February for companies to bid on delivering eight additional science payloads in 2022.
In a statement, the US Space agency said, “The Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative is leveraging the capabilities of commercial industry to send scientific instruments and technology demonstrations to the Moon quickly.”
According to NASA, the agency expects to issue a regular series of task order proposals requests to expand the scope of agency payloads requiring transportation services to the lunar surface ahead of human landings.
It is worth mentioning here that future payloads could include other rovers, power sources, additional science experiments, or other equipment and technologies needed for astronaut expeditions on the lunar surface.
VIPER is a collaboration within and beyond the agency. VIPER is part of the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program managed by the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. Ames is managing the rover project, leading the mission’s science, systems engineering, real-time rover surface operations, and software development.
The hardware for the rover is being designed by the Johnson Space Center, while the instruments are provided by Ames, Kennedy, and commercial partner, Honeybee Robotics. The spacecraft lander and launch vehicle that will deliver VIPER to the surface of the Moon, will be provided through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract, delivering science and technology payloads to and near the Moon.