NASA's Lunar Rover VIPER Is Training In Its Sand Pit

p dir="ltr">When you think of NASA sending rovers out into space, you likely think of the robot explorers on Mars like the Curiosity and Perseverance, both of which were sent to Mars. But while our favorite red planet explorers are out there rolling around at a great distance, the agency has plans to send rovers to other locations as well. This week NASA shared information on their upcoming VIPER mission which will be sent to the moon – our Earth's own nearest neighbor.

Jef Janis, NASA Glenn Research Center

The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, will trundle across the moon searching for water ice on the lunar surface. It will look around the moon's south pole, where previous research suggests that there could be water ice located inside lunar craters (via NASA). Finding a supply of water on the moon could be invaluable for future crewed missions there, when moon explorers will need access to resources.

The plan is to launch VIPER in 2023, but ahead of that launch the rover needs to be tweaked and perfected to deal with the moon's difficult conditions. The moon's surface is very dusty, and because the moon has no atmosphere, there is no wind, which means no erosion. That means that the dust there is sharp, like tiny pieces of glass, making it potentially damaging to electronics and difficult to maneuver through (via NASA).

To get VIPER ready, NASA has been working with a test version of the rover here on Earth in its Simulated Lunar Operations Laboratory, or SLOPE bed. The test rover has the same wheels and base size that the real rover will have, and the test version has to make its way through obstacles in this test lab of sandy material, to see whether its wheel design is up to the challenge of moving around on the moon.

NASA even shared a video showing the test rover moving through deep sand, over rocks, and up a steep slope to simulate the conditions the rover might encounter once it reaches the moon. UPDATE: Take a peek at a video posted by the NASA Glenn Research Center doing some earlier testing with the VIPER, then drop in on the newest (and shortest) video of the latest testing session on Twitter.

To complete its testing, another version of the rover will be put into the SLOPE center later this year. This newer version will be more like the real rover, in what NASA describes as its "final exam where the rover will need to prove it's capable of meeting design requirements with its hardware, software, and electronics".