How did frozen water arrive on Moon? VIPER to look for answers on lunar South Pole

As the United States pushes for deeper exploration of the cosmos, the first stop is the Moon. Nasa is preparing to return to the lunar surface with the Artemis Mission, however, it will first send a rover to hunt for ice and other resources ahead of its astronauts’ return. The space agency has now zeroed in on the region it will explore looking for these resources: the lunar south pole.

Nasa will land the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) near the edge of the Nobile Crater at the Moon’s South Pole in 2023. The rover will explore the region’s surface and subsurface for water and other resources. The rover will hitch a ride on the SpaceX Falcon-Heavy rocket to the lunar pole.

“Selecting a landing site for VIPER is an exciting and important decision for all of us. Years of study have gone into evaluating the polar region VIPER will explore. VIPER is going into uncharted territory—informed by science—to test hypotheses and reveal critical information for future human space exploration,” Daniel Andrews, VIPER project manager said during the announcement of the location.

WHY THE SOUTH POLE?

There has always been a curiosity associated with the lunar poles, which have not been explored much except for a handful of spacecraft visiting the location from above. The Moon’s South Pole is one of the coldest areas in our solar system and scientists have thus far only studied the region using remote sensing instruments, including those on Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite.

© Provided by India Today The headlights on VIPER that will illuminate the permanently shadowed regions on the Moon. (Photo: Nasa)

Data from these observations have led to the conclusion that the South Pole on the Moon could be home to ice and other potential resources that exist in permanently shadowed areas of the Moon. Scientists aim to study the origin and distribution of water on the Moon and prepare to harvest the resources 2,40,000 miles from the Earth that could be used to safely send astronauts farther into outer space.

LANDING IN AN IMPACT CRATER

Nasa has selected Nobile Crater as the potential site for landing the rover and exploring the possibility of resources. Nobile is an impact crater that was formed through a collision with another smaller celestial body and is almost permanently covered in shadows, allowing ice to exist there.

“Smaller, more accessible craters surrounding Nobile’s perimeter, will also provide VIPER with ideal locations to investigate in its search for ice and other resources,” Nasa said adding that engineers have evaluated viable rover traverse paths, taking into account where VIPER could use its solar panels to charge and stay warm during its 100-day journey. The area near Nobile Crater provided a lot of flexibility.

The region that the rover will study in the crater extends up to 93 square kilometres and the mission will explore around 16 to 24 km of it during its operational life. “The rover will visit carefully chosen areas of scientific interest that will provide further insight into a wide array of different kinds of lunar environments. The VIPER team will look to characterize ice and other resources in these areas using VIPER’s sensors and drill,” Nasa said.

VIPER team aims to address how frozen water and other resources arrived on the Moon in the first place and plans to identify where they came from, how they remained preserved for billions of years, how they escape, and where they go. Nasa had in June 2020, awarded the $199.5 million contract to Astrobotic to launch, transit, and deliver the water-hunting rover to the Moon.

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