Jun 16, 2020 - Science

NASA's VIPER rover's countdown to the Moon

The Moon's north pole.

The Moon's north pole. Photo: NASA/JPL

NASA last week announced that the company Astrobotic will deliver the agency's VIPER rover to the lunar surface, bringing the space agency another step closer to understanding exactly how much water is on the Moon.

Why it matters: Companies and space agencies hope to one day mine the Moon for water that can be turned into rocket fuel that could be used to get spacecraft to other, distant targets like Mars. But how much water is actually there is unknown.

  • VIPER will be the first step toward understanding the Moon's polar water and if it can be harvested.

Details: The VIPER rover is expected to launch to the south pole of the Moon in 2023 for a 100-day mission.

  • The agency will also test out the rover's instruments with landers bound for the Moon in 2021 and 2022.
  • The data the rover collects will help NASA put together a map of water on the Moon and help the agency learn more about what exactly can be done with it in the future.
  • "We’re doing something that’s never been done before — testing the instruments on the Moon as the rover is being developed," NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement. "VIPER and the many payloads we will send to the lunar surface in the next few years are going to help us realize the Moon’s vast scientific potential.”
  • Astrobotic's contract is worth $199.5 million.

What's next: The rover is expected to be a precursor mission to NASA's Artemis program, designed to bring astronauts to the surface of the Moon in 2024.

Go deeper: One step closer to mining the moon

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