SpaceX to send VIPER ice fighter to the moon

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SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket will launch the VIPER rover to the moon. On site, the robot will probe the presence of ice at the South Pole, thus preparing the arrival of future astronauts.

The Artemis program aims to send humans back to the Moon from 2024. This new project demonstrates the desire to establish ourselves permanently on our satellite. Also, to ensure the success of these future missions, astronauts will have to use in situ resources as soon as they have the opportunity. This is particularly the case with water. Treated, it could be consumed, but also provide oxygen, as well as fuel to power future landers and rockets.

On the Moon, water is only found in the form of ice, mainly in the shaded parts of the two poles. The Artemis program aims to establish itself at the level of the South Pole. It will therefore be important toassess more precisely upstream the quantity of this resource in the region. With this in mind, NASA will send a rover named VIPER, developed by the company Astrobotic.

On site, the robot will be equipped with a one-meter-long drill guided by a neutron spectrometer designed to detect wetter areas below the surface. Then, two other on-board spectrometers will be used to analyze the collected samples.

Astrobotic chooses SpaceX

Astrobotic’s contract with NASA required the Pennsylvania-based company to independently select its launch provider. A few days ago, it finally set its sights on SpaceX and its Falcon Heavy medium launcher in a competitive tender. “SpaceX has the team, vehicle and facilities to make it happen“, Explained Daniel Gillies, mission director for Astrobotic. The launch of this mission is planned for 2023.

As with previous Falcon Heavy missions, SpaceX will launch from Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The mission plan is as follows: SpaceX delivers Astrobotic’s Griffin lunar lander on a path leading it to the moon. Griffin will then touch the surface and provide a platform from which VIPER can land autonomously.

Illustration of the VIPER rover released by its Griffin lander. Credit: Astrobotic

Remember that NASA also selected SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to deliver two fundamental elements of its future lunar station aimed at supporting human missions in deep space.

So far, this launcher has however shown. After healing its entry into the aerospace scene in February 2018 by propelling Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster into space, the Falcon Heavy did operated only two commercial flights since its first launch (April 11 and June 25, 2019). Its next release is normally scheduled for this year as part of a classified mission for the United States government.

It doesn’t matter. For NASA as for Astrorobotic, SpaceX is a safe bet.

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