During a teleconference with journalists on Monday, NASA researchers revealed the decided landing and exploration site for its upcoming VIPER lunar ice survey. Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, announced that the VIPER mission will land along the western edge of “Relay crater” at the planet’s south pole.
The decision to select this landing site required balancing a number of competing factors. Mission control “considered critical parameters, such as Earth visibility — for communications from the moon to Earth — sunlight terrain that’s well suited for the rover to navigate through, and most importantly, of course, the expected presence of ice and other resources,” Glaze explained, “while analyzing all these constraints, one study area came out ahead of all the rest, maximizing science return and flexibility to help ensure mission success once Viper is on the moon.”
During its 100-day mission, the VIPER rover is expected to investigate at least six potential sites covering 10 to 15 square-miles of lunar surface through one of the coldest areas in our solar system studied to date. That includes permanently-shadowed craters that have a good probability of potentially containing water ice.
“We really don’t know where that water is so we had to find a place where we could cover significant distances — and by significant distances I mean tens of kilometers — going in and out of thermal regimes that included everything from permanently shadowed craters with literally 50 Kelvin temperatures to areas that transitioned to a balmy 110 Kelvin, and then all the way up to 250 Kelvin,” Anthony Colaprete, Lead Project Scientist at NASA Ames said during the call. “We want to study the entire range of thermal environments.”