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In the third mobility evaluation, NASA’s lunar test rover VIPER kicks up sand

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Image Credit: Twitter (@NASAAmes)

While traversing NASA Glenn’s Simulated Lunar Operations Laboratory, or SLOPE bed, the newest prototype of NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) manoeuvred high sinkage sand-like material. This was the test rover’s third mobility evaluation in preparation for the 2023 trip to the Moon’s South Pole.

Moon Gravitation Representative Unit 3 (MGRU3), the most recent test rover, has the same wheel design and base size as the final rover that will land on the lunar surface. Over the course of two weeks, the VIPER crew drove the rover over a variety of obstacles and up steep slopes to gather important data that will aid the rover’s operations and scientific teams in route planning.

Later this spring, NASA plans to send an even more flight-like rover to SLOPE for verification and validation testing.

Over a three-week period, the researchers tested one of the rover’s wheels by modeling slopes, wheel slides, and even the size, shape, and distribution of rocks the mobile robot would face on the Moon. The endurance testing was done at the Pittsburgh-based ProtoInnovations lab, which also built the software controls for the robot’s wheels.

VIPER is NASA’s first movable lunar robotic project. Astrobotic’s Griffin lander will carry the mobile robot to the lunar surface on a 100-day mission in late 2023 as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) project. It will receive a close-up look of the Moon’s South Pole’s location, concentration of water ice, and other prospective resources.

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