NASA's first robotic moon rover is ready for final assembly and testing, and you can watch engineers bring the lunar explorer to life.
The rover, called VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover), will explore the moon and collect water-ice samples from permanently shadowed areas near the lunar south pole. VIPER has an expected launch date of November 2024, and its mission team has begun final assembly and testing procedures, which NASA will broadcast live during monthly watch parties for the public to follow along in the final stages of preparing the rover for space.
"We're really excited for people to see the VIPER rover hardware coming together," Daniel Andrews, the VIPER mission project manager at NASA Ames Research Center in California, said in a statement from the space agency. "All of our planning and ideas are now going into building this first-of-its-kind moon rover."
Over the last several months, the rover's individual components — including its lights, wheels and science instruments — have been put to the test and are now being pieced together at NASA's Surface Segment Integration and Testing Facility clean room at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, according to the statement.
NASA will host live events once a month from November 2023 through January 2024, during which mission specialists will answer questions from the public and provide updates on the rover, which will weigh approximately 1,000 pounds once fully assembled.
The first watch party took place on Nov. 8:
Viewers can check the VIPER mission page for more information on when the next watch party will air online. The current schedule is:
- Wednesday, Dec. 6 at noon PST / 3 p.m. EST
- (Spanish-speaking) Thursday, Dec. 7 at noon PST / 3 p.m. EST
- Wednesday, Jan. 10 at noon PST / 3 p.m. EST, and
- (Spanish-speaking) Thursday, Jan. 11 at noon PST / 3 p.m. EST
VIPER is slated to land on Mons Mouton, a mountain near the moon's south pole. It will touch down near the western rim of Nobile crater, where it will be tasked with characterizing the lunar environment to aid in choosing future Artemis program landing sites.
Part of NASA's Artemis program aims to set up a permanent settlement at the moon's south pole, where some areas of the lunar surface never receive direct sunlight and thus are extremely cold. VIPER will play a key role in helping determine locations where water and other resources could be harvested to sustain humans during extended stays on the moon.
"Using its drill and three science instruments, researchers will gain a better understanding of how frozen water and other volatiles are distributed on the moon, their cosmic origin, and what has kept them preserved in the lunar soil for billions of years," NASA officials said in the statement.
VIPER has many months of final assembly and testing ahead before it will be ready to ship to the Astrobotic Payload Processing Facility in Florida in mid-2024. Make sure to follow along as the rover gears up for its launch to the lunar surface.