Tag Archives: VIPER

Astrobotic wins contract to land VIPER rover at Moon’s south pole

Capitalism in space: NASA today awarded the private company Astrobotic a $199 million contract to provide the lander that place place the agency’s VIPER rover down near Moon’s south pole.

The target date for the mission is late 2023, and is intended as a scouting mission for the Artemis manned landing to follow.

During its 100-Earth-day mission, the approximately 1,000-pound VIPER rover will roam several miles and use its four science instruments to sample various soil environments. Versions of its three water-hunting instruments are flying to the Moon on earlier CLPS lander deliveries in 2021 and 2022 to help test their performance on the lunar surface prior to VIPER’s mission. The rover also will have a drill to bore approximately 3 feet into the lunar surface.

The key to this mission continues to be NASA’s shift from building things to hiring others to build them. If Astrobotic is successfully, they will then be positioned to offer their lander design to others, since it belongs to them, not NASA.

VIPER lunar rover delayed, NASA seeks new bids for delivering it to Moon

NASA earlier this week revealed that it is delaying the launch of its VIPER lunar rover until 2023, even as it announced that it is seeking new bids from commercial companies for delivering it to Moon.

In the past two months NASA has apparently been trying to reorganize its unmanned lunar exploration, resulting it a variety of puzzling and sometimes sudden shifts in policy and direction. First they announced they are going to issue a request for proposals, then they delayed it, then they issued it only to withdrew it one week later, with no explanation.

This week’s announcement is another attempt to release this request, accompanied by the delay in VIPER. Though NASA says the delay is to allow “for upgrades so that the rover can conduct longer and more exciting science on the Moon”, I think instead it is to simplify it so that the commercial companies will be able to launch and land it. VIPER’s heritage designs come from an earlier NASA rover project dubbed Resource Prospector that was cancelled because it was going to be too expensive and complex. I think the private companies building landers for such a rover told NASA that they couldn’t handle those heritage designs, forcing NASA to rethink.

If my suspicions are true, this is actually a very good sign. NASA is allowing the private sector to guide it in ways to save money and work more efficiently. That guidance might cause some initial delays as NASA shifts course, but in the long run it will make for a better run operation, costing less while accomplishing more.

NASA delays commercial bidding process for its unmanned lunar landers

Capitalsm in space: NASA has postponed the bidding process for both the commercially-built lander that will bring its its VIPER lunar rover as well as the smaller landers that will bring simpler science packages to the Moon.

In the first case, it appears that the commercial companies wanted more time because VIPER is a heavier and bigger payload than their landers are currently designed for. In the second case, the reasons for the postponement are less clear, leaving the companies involved somewhat puzzled and in the dark.

NASA to send new rover to lunar south pole

NASA today announced that it is building a lunar rover that it will send to the lunar south pole, with a target launch date of December 2022.

About the size of a golf cart, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, will roam several miles, using its four science instruments — including a 1-meter drill — to sample various soil environments. Planned for delivery to the lunar surface in December 2022, VIPER will collect about 100 days of data that will be used to inform the first global water resource maps of the Moon.

This rover appears to be a traditional NASA project, designed, built, and managed by various NASA agencies that also subcontract the work out to private contractors. As the press release says,

VIPER is a collaboration within and beyond the agency. VIPER is part of the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program managed by the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. Ames is managing the rover project, leading the mission’s science, systems engineering, real-time rover surface operations and software development. The hardware for the rover is being designed by the Johnson Space Center, while the instruments are provided by Ames, Kennedy, and commercial partner, Honeybee Robotics. The spacecraft lander and launch vehicle that will deliver VIPER to the surface of the Moon, will be provided through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract, delivering science and technology payloads to and near the Moon. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words however indicate where this project differs from the past. The launch vehicle and lander are not being designed and built by NASA. They will be provided by commercial vendors.