NASA is planning to send two robots to the lunar south pole in 2023 to search for water ice and other resources. The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) and the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) will be the first missions to explore this remote and challenging region of the Moon.
The VIPER rover will be equipped with a drill and other instruments to dig into the lunar surface and search for water ice. The LEND instrument will measure the abundance of neutrons in the lunar soil, which can be used to identify the presence of water ice.
The lunar south pole is a particularly promising place to find water ice because it is constantly in shadow. This means that the water ice is protected from the solar radiation that would otherwise vaporize it.
The discovery of water ice on the Moon would be a major breakthrough for NASA’s Artemis program, which is planning to send astronauts back to the Moon by 2024. Water ice could be used to support life on the Moon, and it could also be used to make rocket fuel for future missions to Mars.
The VIPER and LEND missions are just the first steps in NASA’s exploration of the lunar south pole. In the years to come, NASA plans to send more robots and astronauts to this region to learn more about its unique environment and resources.
Here are some additional details about the VIPER and LEND missions:
- The VIPER rover is about the size of a golf cart and will weigh about 450 pounds. It will be powered by solar panels and will have a range of about 6 miles.
- The LEND instrument is a small, lightweight detector that will be attached to the VIPER rover. It will measure the abundance of neutrons in the lunar soil by detecting the gamma rays that are emitted when neutrons interact with the soil.
- The VIPER and LEND missions will launch together on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in 2023. They will arrive at the Moon in 2024 and will begin exploring the lunar south pole shortly thereafter.
The exploration of the lunar south pole is a major milestone in NASA’s Artemis program. It is a challenging mission, but it is one that has the potential to yield major discoveries. The VIPER and LEND missions will be the first to explore this remote and mysterious region of the Moon, and they will pave the way for future missions to the lunar south pole.