WASHINGTON (AFP) – NASA announced Monday (September 20th) that it would land an ice-seeking rover in a region of the Moon’s south pole called Nobile Crater in 2023.
The space agency is waiting for the robot to confirm the presence of water ice just below the surface, which could one day be turned into rocket fuel for missions to Mars and deeper into the cosmos.
“Nobile crater is an impact crater near the South Pole that was born due to a collision with another smaller celestial body,” Lori Glaze, director of the planetary sciences division of the United States, told reporters. NASA.
It is one of the coldest regions of the solar system and has only so far been probed from afar by sensors such as those aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the lunar crater observation and detection satellite.
“The rover will approach the lunar ground, even drilling a few feet down,” Glazer said.
The robot is called Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover or VIPER.
Its dimensions are similar to a golf cart: 1.5 meters by 1.5 meters by 2.5 meters and it looks a bit similar to the droids seen in Star Wars. It weighs 430 kg.
Unlike the rovers used on Mars, VIPER can be piloted almost in real time, because the distance to Earth is much shorter, only about 300,000 km or 1.3 seconds of light.
The rover is also faster, exceeding 0.8 km / h.
The solar-powered VIPER includes a 50-hour battery, is built to withstand extreme temperatures, and can “walk the crab” sideways so that its panels continue to point toward the Sun to maintain charge.
As for the scientific objectives of the mission, the VIPER team wants to know how the icy water reached the Moon in the first place, how it remained conserved for billions of years, how it escapes and where go water now.
The mission is part of Artemis, the American plan to return humans to the moon.
The first manned mission is technically scheduled for 2024, but will likely take place significantly later, as several aspects are running late.