Kepler Communications - Aether

Sherbrooke scientist receives CSA funding for lunar VIPER mission

NASA lunar VIPER rover. Credit: NASA.

Canadian applied geomatics scientist Myriam Lemelin of the University of Sherbrooke will get funding from the Canadian Space Agency for the lunar VIPER ice-hunting rover.

Lemelin has been selected by NASA to analyze samples for its Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), which is in development and expected to launch in 2023. Lemelin’s funding was confirmed by CSA in an announcement.

“Lemelin will contribute her expertise in remote sensing to help learn more about the composition of volatiles, including water ice, and geological processes occurring in the south pole region,” the CSA stated. The samples will be analyzed through two remote sensing instruments on the rover: the Near InfraRed Volatiles Spectrometer System (NIRVSS) and the Ames Imaging Module (AIM).

VIPER is tasked with acting as a scout for astronauts at Nobile Crater, on the south pole of the Moon, ahead of the Artemis moon-landing missions later in the 2020s. Identified as the first resource mapping mission on another world, this golf cart-sized rover will look for samples on the surface for analysis.

The Moon’s south pole is host to numerous permanently shadowed craters, serving as potential sources for ice water for astronauts and their machinery. The ice also will give clues as to how volatiles were distributed in the early solar system, given that it may have been present for billions of years. Other volatiles that might be present in these craters include hydrogen, helium and carbon dioxide, according to CSA.

Objectives of the VIPER mission include, according to CSA:

  • Map the location of ice deposits
  • Sample soils to determine water ice distribution
  • Learn more about the origin of water on the Moon
  • Prepare for deep-space human exploration

The rover must be able to survive the extreme cold and heat of lunar night and day (ranging from −248 to +123 degrees Celsius) and also work in high-contrast lighting, the CSA stated, which arises because the lunar surface has no atmosphere that scatters molecules like we have on Earth.

“Shadows at the south pole are long and fast-moving due to the low angle of the sun on the horizon,” the CSA stated. “The low angle of the sun, combined with some topographical features, can result in some areas never being exposed to the sun … these lighting issues can affect a rover’s depth perception and ability to detect hazards.”

VIPER will also be tasked with moving among “diverse soil types and steep crater walls” while communicating with Earth. The solar-powered rover has the ability to go into hibernation during the darker periods of its mission to conserve power, while the rover’s wheels can “drive sideways, diagonally or even spin its wheels in a circle and drive backwards without changing what direction it is facing,” the CSA stated.

The rover will move for up to 20 kilometers on the surface to assess frozen water reserves ahead of the Artemis program. A Canadian is set to fly in orbit around the moon during Artemis 2, which is expected to launch in 2024. A landing mission, Artemis 3, is scheduled for 2025.

But that is dependent upon the progress of the Artemis 1 uncrewed round-the-moon mission. The stacked Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft were pulled off the launch pad last month following several problems during the wet dress rehearsal, which was expected to bring the two systems through launch day simulations.

NASA has not yet released a new launch date for Artemis 1, which will also depend on launch pad availability. The Kennedy Space Center’s launch facilities have been quite busy lately with other missions, including the launches of Axiom-1 (with Canadian Mark Pathy on board) and Crew-4 in April.

About Elizabeth Howell

Is SpaceQ's Associate Editor as well as a business and science reporter, researcher and consultant. She recently received her Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota and is communications Instructor instructor at Algonquin College.

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