NASA has selected Pittsburgh startup Astrobotic to integrate and deliver the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the Moon. The contract is being awarded under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Astrobotic has been awarded several other CLPS deliveries to the Moon in the past to be delivered using their Peregrine lander. VIPER will make use of their larger Griffin lander and is scheduled for launch in 2023. A launch services provider for VIPER has not been announced, but under the CLPS contract Astrobotic is responsible for acquiring launch services. If their CLPS launch for the Peregrine mission is any indicator, they will most likely contract ULA for Vulcan booster services.
VIPER is a lunar rover designed to search for subsurface water on the moon. It will be used to effectively map water deposits before the arrival of astronauts in the 2024 time frame. NASA has committed to placing “the next man and the first woman” on the moon in 2024.
This selection signals NASA continued drive to rely more heavily on commercial partners, which allows for more choices and cost savings for launchers, landers, robotics, etc. The continued commercialization of space is a necessary element in the next “big leap” for humanity, the colonization of the solar system.