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Jim Bridenstine: NASA to Pick Commercial Lander for ‘VIPER’ Lunar Ice Probe

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NASA is planning to deploy a robotic rover to the moon to study the presence of water ice on or below the lunar surface, Space News reported Sunday.

Jim Bridenstine, administrator of NASA and 2019 Wash100 Award recipient said in a speech at the 70th International Astronautical Congress that the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover will be sent to the moon’s south pole in 2022 through a commercial lander as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

“We’re going to characterize the water ice, and ultimately drill and find out just how the water ice is embedded in the regolith on the moon,” he noted.

Under the $250 million VIPER effort, the rover will traverse the south pole for 100 days and detect subsurface ice deposits which will be assessed through mass and near-infrared spectrometers.

Jay Jenkins, program executive for the Science Mission Directorate’s Office of Exploration, said in a prior event that VIPER “heavily leverages” engineering operations for the Resource Prospector mission, which was canceled in 2018. NASA intends to select one or more contractors under the CLPS program by the end of 2019.