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VIPER Lunar Rover Fights Quicksand and a Tilt Bed in Most Realistic Tests to Date

Come late 2023, one of the many missions planned for the Moon is set to take off. It’s called Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, but given how that’s too long and twisted, people, including those at NASA, simply call it VIPER.
VIPER in the sand 11 photos
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VIPER is tasked, in a nutshell, with finding water on the Moon, an essential ingredient for the success of the upcoming Artemis missions, and whatever may come after that. In essence, this thing is a rover the size of a golf cart, packed with three spectrometers that will help it detect water.

Being a rover, it will have to be perfectly suited to handle the lunar terrain, which is anything but friendly with wheeled machines. To train it, NASA engineers are currently hard at work putting it through its paces at the Simulated Lunar Operations (SLOPE) Laboratory at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

It was there where the most recent, most realistic series of tests were conducted. The VIPER test unit had to navigate its way through quicksand-like soil, get up a simulated slope on a tilt bed, and avoid boulders and craters.

The procedures seem to have gone extremely well, with NASA saying it learned a lot from them. Engineers now have a pretty good idea of how well the rover will handle the conditions on the Moon, saw it can inch-worm its way out of sticky situations, and learned it can autonomously stop moving if it approaches places like a slope that is too steep for it to climb.

VIPER is scheduled to launch onboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in late 2023. Once on the Moon, it will spend 100 days covering a distance of 12 miles (20 km), traveling at speeds of just 0.45 mph (0.72 kph). It will do so into permanently shadowed craters of the Moon, the most likely places to contain water in the form of ice.

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