According to a report [pdf] issued today by NASA’s inspector general, the agency’s VIPER lunar rover mission is generally on schedule for its ’23 launch, though it has experienced some cost increases and still carries some scheduling risks, mostly related to the development of Astrobotic’s commercial Griffin lunar lander, and its precursor Peregrine mission that ULA hopes to launch on its first Vulcan rocket test.
Although Astrobotic personnel explained that Griffin’s development schedule is largely independent of its Peregrine mission, the Peregrine Lander—planned to launch in 2022—has multiple systems and subsystems that will also be used on Griffin. Therefore, any technical problems with these systems may adversely affect development of the Griffin Lander because Astrobotic would only have about a year, depending on the Peregrine launch date and start of lunar operations, to resolve the issues prior to NASA delivering VIPER for integration and launch. Furthermore, any failures during the Peregrine mission may lead to Griffin delays as NASA and Astrobotic investigate the failures and develop corrective actions.
In addition, VIPER long-lead acquisitions—such as the rover solar power array and avionics unit—have been affected by aerospace industry supply chain delays caused by COVID-19 as have delivery of computer boards and motor parts. Both of these issues have impacted design verification testing needed for the mission’s Critical Design Review, while COVID-19 also delayed some component development schedules.
Peregrine’s launch has been delayed by a year because Vulcan has been delayed because of Blue Origin’s problems with the BE-4 rocket engine. Though ULA hopes the Vulcan/Peregrine launch can occur late this year, that date remains very much in doubt. Further launch delays would thus threaten the launch of Griffin and VIPER.
As for the cost increases, the IG found that NASA had been forced to increase the budget for VIPER by 18.1%, a relatively minor increase compared to many of NASA’s other big projects. The IG noted however that further cost overruns are very possible, especially if the Peregrine mission experiences problems.
The photo above shows the rover’s presently planned route in the relatively flat area about 85 miles from the Moon’s south pole and near the western edge of Nobile Crater (pronounced No-BEEL-e).
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Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space
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