How NASA's VIPER will look for lunar ice
6:27

How NASA's VIPER will look for lunar ice

Science
Speaker 1: Let's stop. You probably already know this, but we are going back to the moon. Well, not exactly we not you and I, but NASA's going back in 20, 24, according to their schedule. But before the first woman or even another man reaches a lunar surface, we're sending a Viper. This is NASA's volatiles investigating polar exploration Rover, and it has one basic mission. [00:00:30] Find water on the moon. Part of NASA's long-term vision for lunar exploration. Isn't just visiting the moon again. It's actually sustaining human life there, and that is gonna require a resource. Speaker 2: We could either bring everything from earth, which is kind of our fault acquisi or we can actually live off the land a little bit by, uh, by using what's naturally there. Speaker 1: Dan Andrews heads up the Viper program for NASA. He says, identifying usable water on the moon [00:01:00] is gonna be key to keeping humans alive up there. Speaker 2: Uh, you think of a gallon of milk, which is, you know, mostly water and it's pretty heavy. And so bringing water from earth to take care of needs of humans on the moon is expensive and challenging. So if you could actually find it on the moon, you can make use of it like it's an in its resource. So Speaker 1: Let's take a look at the Viper its mission and how it works. [00:01:30] The goal is to get Viper to the south pole of the moon in late 20, 23, gonna spend about a hundred earth days driving a total of 12 miles, searching for ice deposits below the surface. This makes a, it the first ever mission to map resources, not on planet earth. Now NASA knows there's ice at both poles. It's just not clear exactly where or how much of it's there. Speaker 2: It isn't enough to say, I know there's oil here, or I know there's gold there, or even water [00:02:00] here on earth. You need to know specific where it is because that'll drive how hard it is to get. Speaker 1: What we're seeing here is a prototype Piper. The actual Rover going to the moon will be about the size of a golf cart with a top speed of about half a mile, an hour, and designing a Rover for the lunar surface. It's not the same as building one for Mars. Speaker 2: It's when we're on the sun, we are being cooked by the sun. When we're in shadow, we're unbelievably cold. There's [00:02:30] nothing moderating those temperature differences. So the engineering challenge designing a Rover to be able to work in that environment is quite challenging. Speaker 1: Viper will be solar powered, but because it'll be at a pole, the sun may only be about nine or 10 degrees, a off the horizon at high noon. So the solar array has to be on the side of the Rover and the radiators to get rid of all that excess heat they're on the top. And the Piper has to be really maneuverable. Remember the lunar surface is full of craters and [00:03:00] soil with varying degrees of thickness. That's why the four wheels can move independently. So Viper can move sideways or Speaker 2: Diagonally. We can dip a toe one, one wheel into one of these areas. And if we find that it's very soft, we have the ability to rock back and pull ourselves out. So it's a very capable Rover. That way it's even led to some unexpected capabilities. When we laid it out this way, we haven't thought of this, but we can actually do what we [00:03:30] generously call swim. Speaker 1: So what's on board. The Viper, there's the neutron spectrometer, which scans for signs of water are as deep as three feet below the surface. There's the one meter drill for drilling, and it's also equipped with a temperature sensor. Now, once the drill brings up a sample, it's scanned by two more spectrometers that give a more exact location of that ice and can determine how much of it's there. And the Viper's gonna have another unique distinction. It'll be the first new NASA Rover [00:04:00] equipped with headlights that's because it's gonna be exploring places that literally never see the Speaker 2: Sun rovers street eight, have not had to do that. Or they've been for example, on Mars where they have an atmosphere that kinda lights up the environment. Um, when they're roving in the case of Viper, because water ice is owned only there, uh, through deposition from comments and asteroids, pelting the moon, and then giving themselves into the soil that all boils away because [00:04:30] the sunlight hit except in those areas where the sun can't shine into these permanently shadowed regions, we've gotta go in there and actually explore and understand the nature, the soil, and what's in it. Well, in order to do that, we need headlights. Speaker 1: Now, the moon being a lot closer to earth than Mars is it does provide some advantages for the Viper team specifically. It gives them more direct control over the Rover while the mission's underway in the case of a Mars Rover takes about 30 minutes [00:05:00] to get a command from earth. So they essentially just have to tell the Rover where to go. And then it's up to the Rover and it's hazard avoidance software to find the best way there there's no real time control, but it only takes about 11 seconds to get a command to the moon. Still, not exactly real time, but it gives operators on earth. More control. Speaker 2: If you are playing a game with the ten second delay, uh, it would drive you crazy. You, you could not successfully drive a car in a video game with a ten second. [00:05:30] We've actually tested ourselves on that. We've actually tried injecting delays into our simulations and it's terrible. So what we have is a, um, a middle ground, a semi autonomous operate. So what we do is we give Waypoint commands to the, and what that is, is a command that says, Hey, go out ahead. Um, maybe four meters in this direction. We tell them which direction we steer it and so forth. And then it autonomously moves in that direction. [00:06:00] And it does its own hazard avoidance. It's gonna be, uh, much more interactive than we're used to with the Mars missions. Speaker 1: Okay. So what's next? Well, the current design for Viper needs to go through an independent review at the end of the year. Now once that design's approved, then the team gets to work building the actual Viper. That's gonna go to the moon in 2023.

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