NASA’s VIPER lunar rover prototype endures most realistic tests to-date

NASA engineers recently tested the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) prototype in the most realistic conditions to date to verify its ability to navigate the difficult terrain features during its mission to the Moon’s South Pole.

VIPER, a mobile robot that will get a close-up view of the location and concentration of water ice on the Moon, is planned to be delivered to the lunar surface in November 2024 under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The measurements returned by the rover will provide insight into the origin and distribution of water on the Moon and help determine how the Moon’s resources could be harvested for future human space exploration.

The VIPER engineering team tested the rover’s mobility engineering test unit, Moon Gravitation Representative Unit 3 (MGRU3), which features motor controllers specially designed for the lunar rover. The test took place at the Simulated Lunar Operations (SLOPE) Laboratory at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

“Unlike most car engines, which uses a throttle and brake to speed up and slow down all four wheels, VIPER’s motor controllers make the rover wheels turn at the force and rate the drivers want, with extreme precision to allow for better performance,” he said. Arno Rogg, test director and rover systems engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

The VIPER lunar rover prototype also demonstrated it will autonomously stop moving if it approaches a slope that is too steep for it to climb or if it were to ever lose track of where it is on the Moon, NASA said in a statement.

The team used lunar soil simulants and hand-picked rocks to carefully shape the terrain to realistically mimic actual features at the surface of the Moon’s South Pole.

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