NASA has requested the Astrobotic and VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) team to adjust VIPER’s delivery to the Moon’s South Pole from November 2023 to November 2024. VIPER is a rover that will return measurements that will provide insight into the origin and distribution of water on the Moon and help determine how future human space exploration missions can harvest the Moon’s resources.
VIPER is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, which allows the acquisition of lunar delivery services from American companies for payloads for the moon that advance science, exploration or commercial development capabilities. Through CLPS, NASA contracted Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic to deliver VIPER to the lunar surface on the company’s Griffin lander.
NASA took the decision to pursue a 2024 delivery date as part of its request to Astrobotic for additional ground testing of the Griffin lunar lander, which is scheduled to deliver VIPER to the Moon’s surface. The space agency wants the additional tests to reduce the overall risk to VIPER’s delivery. An additional $67.8 million has been added to Astrobiotics’s CLPS contract, which now totals $320.4 million, to complete the additional tests that have been mandated.
“Through CLPS, NASA has tasked U.S. companies to perform a very challenging technological feat – to successfully land and operate on the Moon. VIPER is NASA’s largest and most sophisticated science payload to be delivered to the Moon through CLPS, and we’ve implemented enhanced lander testing for this particular CLPS surface delivery,” said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a press statement.
CLPS is an important part of NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon. Science and technology payloads sent to the Moon’s surface will contribute to missions on and around the moon. So far, the space agency has made seven task order awards to CLPS providers for lunar deliveries in the early 2020s, with more delivery awards expected to happen through 2028.