NASA Schedules Lander To Go to Moon’s South Pole To Seek Water
Oct. 28, 2019 (EIRNS)—Again accelerating its plans for the manned return to the Moon, NASA has announced its intention to send a Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission to the lunar South Pole in 2022 to seek and dig for ice on or below the surface there. Its long, 100-day mission depends on the VIPER landing in a spot which is in sunlight for most of the full lunar day.
NASA Administrator James Bridenstine announced the water mission at the International Astronautical Congress, hosted in Washington, D.C. last week. “We actually have a mission right now that I’m very pleased to announce; it’s called VIPER,” Bridenstine said. “VIPER is going to rove on the South Pole of the Moon and ... assess where the water ice is. We’re going to characterize the water ice, and ultimately drill and find out just how the water ice is embedded in the regolith on the Moon.”
Thus, this mission will also continue the work begun by India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission in September, which put an orbiter around the Moon and sent a lander and rover down to the South Pole to find water whose presence Chandrayaan-1 confirmed in 2007. The Chandrayaan-2 lander and rover were not able to function there. The orbiter, which has a life expectancy of seven years, is continuing, and “shall enrich our understanding of the moon’s evolution and mapping of the minerals and water molecules in the Polar Regions, using its eight scientific instruments,” reported the Indian Space Research Organization, earlier this month.
VIPER, intended to launch in late 2022, would fly to the Moon on a commercial space company’s lander through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Its purpose, as reported by SpaceNews Oct. 27, will be to find exactly where in the Moon’s surface or subsurface the ice is located, measure its concentrations, and provide information on how difficult it will be to extract it. There are potentially hundreds of millions of tons of water there, but it must be extractable.
NASA has already ordered commercial landers, but not large enough to carry the VIPER. In September it received new proposals to land vehicles of several hundred kilograms, and will soon make a selection. Two years from bid selection to landing at the South Pole will be a very rapid timetable.