The Moon isn’t an easy place to explore a tiny rover – from its sharp, glass-like dust that tears apart components to the blisters and craters that cover its surface that the rover has to maneuver over, it’s a tough place to navigate, to ensure that the next VIPER is ready for the challenges of the lunar environment. NASA was putting the craft back through the test on a moon-like obstacle course on Earth.
The goal of the VIPER rover is to search for key resources for future manned missions to the Moon, particularly water ice.
The mission was originally scheduled to launch in November 2023, but that date has been pushed back to November 2024 to give more time for testing. This test includes challenges to the rover such as encountering “quicksand-like soil” and maneuvering around tilts, rocks and potholes.
On the NASA website, you can watch video footage of the rover in action, including encountering a dusty crater and steep cliffs at a test facility at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland that simulates the environment of the moon.
“We wanted to see if the rover would be able to move forward in a severely flooded environment, how much faster VIPER might be driving slower or how much extra power the rover would use due to the difficult soil conditions,” said Mercedes Herreras Martinez, VIPER Risk and Missions Manager, Systems Engineering. Technical exchange, in a statement.
Through these tests, engineers can learn how the rover will perform on the Moon and whether it will be able to dump itself if it finds itself in a difficult environment. This helps the team prepare for what happens if the rover encounters an unexpected obstacle or problem.
“We collected a lot of data through these tests about what happens when the rover wheels drift over a rock or slide on soft ground, and which sensor is drifting – when the rover veers slightly off course,” said Arnaud Rogge, Test Director.
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