(Washington) NASA announced Monday that it has chosen the Nobile crater, near the south pole of the moon, to land its exploration robot in search of ice in 2023.
The US space agency hopes the probe will be able to confirm the presence of icy water just below the moon’s surface, which could one day turn into rocket fuel for missions to Mars and beyond in the universe.
“Noble Crater is a crater near the South Pole that originated from a collision with another smaller celestial body,” Laurie Gleese, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.
It is one of the coldest regions in the Solar System, and has only been examined remotely so far, using sensors such as those on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Moon Crater Monitoring and Sensing Satellite.
“The rover will get to know the lunar soil very closely, and it will drill to a depth of one meter,” Laurie Glazer added.
The robot was named VIPER, short for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover.
Heavy at 430 kg, its dimensions are similar to those of a golf cart: 1.5m x 1.5m x 2.5m. It also has some similarities with Star Wars droids.
Unlike the rovers used on Mars, VIPER can be flown in real time, due to the much shorter distance between Earth and the Moon – only 300,000 kilometers or 1.3 light seconds.
It is also faster, traveling at a speed of about 0.8 km / h.
Powered by solar energy, VIPER has a battery life of 50 hours, and is designed to withstand extreme temperatures. It can also be wrapped around so that these panels can be pointed towards the sun at all times.
The team behind VIPER will investigate how ice water first got to the moon, how it has been preserved for billions of years, how it escapes, and where.
The mission is part of Artemis, the American project to return humans to the Moon.
The first manned mission is officially scheduled for 2024, but it will almost certainly happen at a later time given that many parts of the project are already delayed.
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