Prototype of the VIPER lunar rover overcame an obstacle course

The prototype of the VIPER lunar rover has successfully passed a series of “road” tests. They confirmed its ability to overcome obstacles and move around the terrain with difficult terrain.

First NASA lunar rover

VIPER is NASA’s first lunar rover. Its length and width are 1.5 m, height — 2.5 m, weight — 450 kg. The device will move with the help of four wheels. Its maximum speed will be 0.72 km/h. To generate energy, VIPER will be equipped with solar panels capable of generating 450 watts. The energy stored during the lunar day will be used to prevent the device from freezing during the long lunar night.

The rover will be delivered to the south pole of the Moon using the Griffin landing platform developed by Astrobotic. It will study the lunar soil to determine the amount of water ice contained in it. Initially, VIPER was supposed to go to the Moon in 2023, but NASA recently postponed the launch date to 2024 to give more time to prepare and test both the landing platform and the lunar rover.

Tests of the VIPER lunar rover

The key to the success of the VIPER mission is its ability to overcome various obstacles on the lunar surface. In order to test the rover’s capabilities in practice, its prototype was placed in the SLOPE simulator located at the Glenn Research Center. It is a simulator of the lunar surface, created on the basis of data collected by previous missions. Inside it there are craters, sand, stones of various shapes and sizes and an inclined platform.

SLOPE lunar surface simulator. Source: NASA

The purpose of the tests was to find out whether the VIPER would be able to continue driving if it plunged into a material with very low grip, and how much additional power it would need. The engineers also wanted to test the latest version of the lunar rover’s software, which allows it to move its wheels in a special coordinated way like a caterpillar.

Testing the prototype of the VIPER lunar rover. Source: NASA

According to engineers, the prototype VIPER successfully passed the “lunar obstacle course”. The rover also demonstrated that it will automatically stop moving if it approaches a slope with too steep an angle of ascent or if it loses the ability to determine its exact position. The engineers also received a lot of data about what happens when the rover hits a rock or its wheels slip, and how this affects its sensors.

According to

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