NASA and Astrobotic will deliver water-seeking VIPER rover to the Moon

The rover will help determine whether the Moon has enough water to sustain humans.

NASA Ames/Daniel Rutter

NASA has chosen Astrobotic as its commercial partner for the 2023 launch of the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the Moon. VIPER will look for the location and concentration of ice on the Moon’s surface, which will inform manned missions planned for 2024, according to NASA. Astrobotic, a Pittsburgh-based space robotics company, will use the $199.5 million contract to execute “end-to-end services for delivery of VIPER, including integration with its Griffin lander, launch from Earth, and landing on the Moon,” NASA said.

VIPER will land on the Moon’s south pole and spend its 100-day mission looking for water ice in the area. The 1,000-pound rover will use four science instruments to collect samples which will help us see if there’s enough water to sustain humans on future missions. Some of the instruments will be delivered to the Moon ahead of time as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.

“It is an enormous honor and responsibility to be chosen by NASA to deliver this mission of national importance,” said Astrobotic CEO John Thornton. “Astrobotic’s lunar logistics services were created to open a new era on the Moon. Delivering VIPER to look for water, and setting the stage for the first human crew since Apollo, embodies our mission as a company.”

Astrobotic and NASA aren’t strangers -- The company has also been tapped by NASA to send as many as 14 payloads to the Moon’s Lacus Mortis crater by July 2021, and to build the MoonRanger rover that will create 3D maps of the Moon’s surface in the near future, among other partnerships.