A NASA rover mission to search for ice at the moon’s south pole has passed a crucial examination, but it now costs much more than it did previously. The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission was approved by NASA on February 24, according to a statement. This helps the mission to move forward with its execution ahead of its launch in late 2023. In an agency release, Daniel Andrews, project manager for VIPER at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said, “We’re now able to complete the design as well as operational preparation for this rover, and afterward start constructing it.”
The mission’s expense has increased dramatically. The cost of VIPER was estimated to be about $250 million when NASA revealed it in October 2019. NASA established a structured cost commitment for the project as part of the approval review, recognized as Key Decision Point C. According to NASA spokesperson Alison Hawkes, the project’s current lifecycle cost is about $433.5 million.
The explanation for the cost increase was initially unknown, but NASA officials announced in June 2020 which VIPER’s launch will be delayed by about a year, to the late 2023, to adapt the rover’s configuration to fulfill the target of working for one hundred days on the lunar surface. At the time, the department refused to comment on the expense of VIPER.
NASA stated in a statement on March 5 that the initial $250 million estimates were focused on the mission’s initial model. According to an agency spokesperson, the VIPER mission has changed since 2019 to facilitate an expanded research investigation, as well as additional resources, have been dedicated to VIPER to represent these improvements, like the 100-day mission period. VIPER will be able to “measure as well as map vertical and lateral concentrations of water as well as other volatiles, creating a worldwide map of resources for possible future in-situ utilization” as a result of the extended period.
VIPER is planned to land near the Moon’s south pole and explore permanently shadowed areas that may contain water ice deposits. Any ice on or close to the surface may be useful tools for potential human missions, both for life support and also as a propellant. “The scientific data obtained by VIPER will enable us to plan for human exploration by offering valuable information on traversability, atmosphere, and assets at lunar poles,” Sarah Noble, who is the VIPER program scientist at the NASA Headquarters, stated in a statement.