At its Glenn Researcher Center in Cleveland, NASA researchers tested a rover called ‘VIPER’ that will be used to search for water ice at the Moon’s south pole. The robot is officially called the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover; it is around the size of an ordinary golf cart, according to the space agency, and it was designed by engineers with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas.
It’s no secret that NASA has ambitious plans to return to the Moon, something that will kick off with a number of unmanned missions leading up to the eventual arrival of human astronauts on the lunar surface in 2024. One of the unmanned missions will involve searching for water ice that could potentially be harvested as a resource for future planned human exploration.
VIPER, assuming everything goes according to plan, will be the first robot to ever take a sample of the water ice from the south pole, the same destination where NASA plans to land two of its astronauts under the budding Artemis program. The vehicle was tested in the Glenn Research Center’s Simulated Lunar Operations Laboratory.
The engineers were able to mimic the Moon’s surface using a ‘lunar simulant,’ according to the space agency. Among other things, the test aimed to shed light on how much power is needed to perform different maneuvers, how well the vehicle’s wheels performed as far as traction is concerned, and to determine the best way to deal with steep slopes.
Engineers from Houston joined the team in Cleveland to test the robot and gather the data. The space agency’s team in Silicon Valley, meanwhile, has been tasked with managing the VIPER project, including its software and surface operations. The NASA team in Florida provided the instruments for the rover in partnership with private company Honeybee Robotics, as well.