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VIPER rover hoists its Mast ahead of lunar mission
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VIPER rover hoists its Mast ahead of lunar mission
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Apr 02, 2024

The NASA Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, better known as VIPER, now boasts enhanced capabilities and a taller stature, courtesy of its newly raised mast. This mast, acting as the rover's "neck" and "head," is equipped with a comprehensive suite of instruments. These tools will aid the rover team, consisting of drivers and scientists operating in real-time, in navigating the lunar South Pole's treacherous terrain, including crater slopes and boulders, while avoiding communication blackouts.

Utilizing these instruments and four scientific payloads, VIPER's mission is to scout the lunar South Pole, aiming to uncover the origins of lunar water and other resources, and to study the harsh environment in preparation for the upcoming Artemis missions.

Standing eight feet above the wheel rims, the mast's pinnacle is adorned with stereo navigation cameras, potent LED headlights, and both low- and high-gain antennas for communication with Earth via the Deep Space Network (DSN). The "eyes" of VIPER, its stereo navigation cameras, can pan and tilt to provide panoramic views and close-up images of lunar features. This elevated perspective allows the team to conduct detailed surveys from a human-like viewpoint.

VIPER's distinction as the first planetary rover to use headlights stems from the Moon's extreme lighting conditions. These headlights, equipped with blue LED arrays, are designed to illuminate dark areas and reveal hidden obstacles or terrain features, enhancing navigation and scientific investigation.

The rover's communication system, featuring a gimballing high-gain antenna for high-speed data transmission and a low-gain antenna for broader communication, is essential for maintaining contact with Earth. This system ensures the flow of commands and data, critical for the success of VIPER's mission. Data transmitted back to Earth is processed at the Multi-Mission Operations and Control Center at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.

The mast underwent rigorous testing, including exposure to a thermal vacuum chamber to ensure its insulation, before being integrated into the rover at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Following its installation, the team successfully tested the mast's components and data transmission capabilities for the first time.

As part of NASA's Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program, VIPER is set to launch aboard Astrobotic's Griffin lunar lander on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, to Mons Mouton near the lunar South Pole.

Related Links
Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover
Mars News and Information at MarsDaily.com
Lunar Dreams and more

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