Saturday, June 25, 2022

America's Next Asteroid Explorer Won't Launch Till 2023 at the Earliest...

An artist's concept of NASA's Psyche spacecraft.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / ASU

NASA Announces Launch Delay for Psyche Asteroid Mission (Press Release - June 24)

NASA announced Friday the Psyche asteroid mission, the agency’s first mission designed to study a metal-rich asteroid, will not make its planned 2022 launch attempt.

Due to the late delivery of the spacecraft’s flight software and testing equipment, NASA does not have sufficient time to complete the testing needed ahead of its remaining launch period this year, which ends on Oct. 11. The mission team needs more time to ensure that the software will function properly in flight.

NASA selected Psyche in 2017 as part of the agency’s Discovery Program, a line of low-cost, competitive missions led by a single principal investigator. The agency is forming an independent assessment team to review the path forward for the project and for the Discovery Program.

“NASA takes the cost and schedule commitments of its projects and programs very seriously,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We are exploring options for the mission in the context of the Discovery Program, and a decision on the path forward will be made in the coming months.”

The independent assessment team, typically made up of experts from government, academia, and industry, will review possible options for next steps, including estimated costs. Implications for the agency’s Discovery Program and planetary science portfolio also will be considered.

The spacecraft’s guidance navigation and flight software will control the orientation of the spacecraft as it flies through space and is used to point the spacecraft’s antenna toward Earth so that the spacecraft can send data and receive commands. It also provides trajectory information to the spacecraft’s solar electric propulsion system, which begins operations 70 days after launch.

As the mission team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California began testing the system, a compatibility issue was discovered with the software’s testbed simulators. In May, NASA shifted the mission’s targeted launch date from Aug. 1 to no earlier than Sept. 20 to accommodate the work needed. The issue with the testbeds has been identified and corrected; however, there is not enough time to complete a full checkout of the software for a launch this year.

“Flying to a distant metal-rich asteroid, using Mars for a gravity assist on the way there, takes incredible precision. We must get it right. Hundreds of people have put remarkable effort into Psyche during this pandemic, and the work will continue as the complex flight software is thoroughly tested and assessed,” said JPL Director Laurie Leshin. “The decision to delay the launch wasn’t easy, but it is the right one.”

The mission’s 2022 launch period, which ran from Aug. 1 through Oct. 11, would have allowed the spacecraft to arrive at the asteroid Psyche in 2026. There are possible launch periods in both 2023 and 2024, but the relative orbital positions of Psyche and Earth mean the spacecraft would not arrive at the asteroid until 2029 and 2030, respectively. The exact dates of these potential launch periods are yet to be determined.

“Our amazing team has overcome almost all of the incredible challenges of building a spacecraft during COVID,” said Psyche Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University (ASU), who leads the mission. “We have conquered numerous hardware and software challenges, and we’ve been stopped in the end by this one last problem. We just need a little more time and will get this one licked too. The team is ready to move forward, and I’m so grateful for their excellence.”

Total life-cycle mission costs for Psyche, including the rocket, are $985 million. Of that, $717 million has been spent to date. The estimated costs involved to support each of the full range of available mission options are currently being calculated.

Two ride-along projects were scheduled to launch on the same SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket as Psyche, including NASA’s Janus mission to study twin binary asteroid systems, and the Deep Space Optical Communications technology demonstration to test high-data-rate laser communications that is integrated with the Psyche spacecraft. NASA is assessing options for both projects.

ASU leads the Psyche mission. JPL—which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California—is responsible for the mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration and test, as well as mission operations. Maxar is providing the high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is managing the launch.


Friday, June 24, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court Has Finally Done the Unthinkable...

The Supreme Court has dealt a devastating blow to women's rights here in the United States...and this is most likely only the beginning.

So after being in effect for over 49 years, Roe v. Wade has finally been overturned by the United States Supreme Court. Congratulations, conservatives— Your despicable legacy that began with George W. Bush stealing the 2000 presidential election continues.

So what are the chances that the Republicans will prove they're Pro-Life and not just Pro-Birth by helping Democrats enact new gun laws that will ensure that more children won't be aborted by an AR-15 in another elementary school shooting (of course, I'm referring to the Uvalde massacre in Texas one month ago today)? Well, we got a positive response when Congress passed bipartisan gun legislation (known as The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act) a few hours ago.

However— If you're Catholic but Pro-Choice like I am, I suggest that you probably skip Mass this weekend... Chances are the priest or deacon will try not to gloat too hard over this religious-minded victory in their sermon on Saturday or Sunday.

A truly sad moment for women's rights and America in general, and this might only be the beginning.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Astrobotic Tests a New Battery-Charging System for Its Lunar Spacecraft...

A 3D-printed version of the CubeRover demonstrates the wireless charging system developed by Astrobotic.

Astrobotic’s Wireless Charging System for the Moon Can Survive Lunar Night (News Release - June 16)

Astrobotic’s wireless charging system can successfully power a CubeRover in lunar night conditions

Pittsburgh, PA - A wireless charging system developed by Astrobotic and WiBotic, with assistance from Bosch, the University of Washington (UW), and the NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC), successfully passed testing to prove that it can function and provide enough power for technologies to survive the 14-Earth-day lunar night.

During testing, the lightweight, ultra-fast wireless charging system proved it can transmit power in extreme hot and cold lunar temperatures simulated at Astrobotic’s headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The analysis and final report, co-authored by NASA Glenn Research Center, maintains the wireless system out-performed its target requirements.

When on the lunar surface, the wireless system would deliver power from an Astrobotic lunar lander or Vertical Solar Array Technology (VSAT) to power rovers, habitats, in-situ resource utilization plants, and other large surface infrastructure to survive the lunar night. Power from the source is converted to wireless power by a WiBotic transmitter circuit and is sent to the device by a transmitter antenna coil. The transmitter coil, however, must be located outside the lander to be available to a wide range of battery-powered devices. As a result, the coil will be exposed to lunar temperatures ranging from -180°F to 220°F. To test its ability to withstand these extremes, the coil was rapidly moved from a heated space into a liquid nitrogen chamber at Astrobotic while power transfer continued.

This successful test follows prior successful tests of exposing the wireless charging system to several different regolith simulants at the NASA Kennedy Space Center, where the system was covered in 4 cm of regolith and experienced no performance degradation to power transfer.

“These tests demonstrate that Astrobotic’s wireless chargers are ready to distribute power for customers on the Moon. Our chargers are now proven to transmit in extreme temperatures, harsh dust environments, and on uneven terrain - all at an 80-85% total system efficiency. This is a huge leap from lunar power systems that in the past relied on complex, heavy, and power-hungry methods. These new, vital systems can enable Artemis Program operations and commercial lunar activities,” says Jay Eckard, Senior Project Manager for Lunar Surface Systems at Astrobotic.

“Even in the worst-case scenario with a fully-exposed radiator panel, our wireless charging system was equipped to provide heater power for CubeRover to survive the lunar night. And CubeRover is just the start. By enabling night survival, we’re opening the Moon to more science activity, for much longer than ever before,” added Eckard.

The wireless charging system is slated to undergo a Preliminary Design Review in early July, with a space-rated engineering model being manufactured in tandem. In the coming months the system will be subjected to a full space qualification test campaign, where it will be exposed to the launch loads of a rocket, among other challenging tests. Astrobotic is already offering the system for commercial purchase in 125w and 400w configurations.

Source: Astrobotic


The wireless charging system developed by Astrobotic is tested with a lunar dust simulant placed between the two transmitters.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The Warriors Have Won Their 7th NBA Championship...

Steph Curry hoists the Larry O'Brien Trophy after the Golden State Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics, 103-90 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, to win their fourth championship in seven years...on June 16, 2022.
Elsa / Getty Images

Congratulations to Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and the rest of the Golden State Warriors for winning their fourth NBA title in seven years! This is their seventh franchise championship since 1947.

This victory ensures that the Los Angeles Lakers and their hated rivals, the Boston Celtics—who lost to the Warriors, 103-90, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals tonight—will be tied at 17 championships apiece for at least one more season! That is all.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

On This Day in 2002: The Lakers Accomplish a Rare Feat in the NBA...

The Los Angeles Lakers celebrate their third straight championship after sweeping the New Jersey Nets, 113-107, in Game 4 of the NBA Finals...on June 12, 2002.
Henny Ray Abrams / AFP / Getty Images

It was 20 years ago today that Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal lead the Los Angeles Lakers to their third straight championship after sweeping the New Jersey Nets, 113-107, in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

This would be the final title that Kobe and Shaq won together, while also the last 'three-peat' to be achieved in the NBA as of today. Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls was the last team to win three championships in a row (twice, from 1991 to '93, and '96 to '98) before the Lake Show came along, while no other American professional basketball team has pulled off this achievement since 2002.

Even though this current Lakers squad doesn't have the same firepower to achieve what Kobe and Shaq attained two decades ago, here's hoping that the new head coach for the team, Darvin Ham, will lead LeBron James and Co. back to the greatness they enjoyed in late 2020. Happy Sunday!

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Hubble's Successor Was Struck by Minor Cosmic Debris Last Month...

A computer-generated image of NASA's James Webb Telescope in deep space.
Adriana Manrique Gutierrez, NASA Animator

Webb: Engineered to Endure Micrometeoroid Impacts (News Release)

Micrometeoroid strikes are an unavoidable aspect of operating any spacecraft, which routinely sustain many impacts over the course of long and productive science missions in space. Between May 23 and 25, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope sustained an impact to one of its primary mirror segments. After initial assessments, the team found the telescope is still performing at a level that exceeds all mission requirements despite a marginally detectable effect in the data.

Thorough analysis and measurements are ongoing. Impacts will continue to occur throughout the entirety of Webb’s lifetime in space; such events were anticipated when building and testing the mirror on the ground. After a successful launch, deployment, and telescope alignment, Webb’s beginning-of-life performance is still well above expectations, and the observatory is fully capable of performing the science it was designed to achieve.

Webb’s mirror was engineered to withstand bombardment from the micrometeoroid environment at its orbit around Sun-Earth L2 of dust-sized particles flying at extreme velocities. While the telescope was being built, engineers used a mixture of simulations and actual test impacts on mirror samples to get a clearer idea of how to fortify the observatory for operation in orbit. This most recent impact was larger than was modeled, and beyond what the team could have tested on the ground.

“We always knew that Webb would have to weather the space environment, which includes harsh ultraviolet light and charged particles from the Sun, cosmic rays from exotic sources in the galaxy, and occasional strikes by micrometeoroids within our solar system,” said Paul Geithner, technical deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We designed and built Webb with performance margin – optical, thermal, electrical, mechanical – to ensure it can perform its ambitious science mission even after many years in space.” For example, due to careful work by the launch site teams, Webb’s optics were kept cleaner than required while on the ground; their pristine cleanliness improves the overall reflectivity and throughput, thereby improving total sensitivity. This and other performance margins make Webb’s science capabilities robust to potential degradations over time.

Furthermore, Webb’s capability to sense and adjust mirror positions enables partial correction for the result of impacts. By adjusting the position of the affected segment, engineers can cancel out a portion of the distortion. This minimizes the effect of any impact, although not all of the degradation can be cancelled out this way. Engineers have already performed a first such adjustment for the recently-affected segment C3, and additional planned mirror adjustments will continue to fine tune this correction. These steps will be repeated when needed in response to future events as part of the monitoring and maintenance of the telescope throughout the mission.

To protect Webb in orbit, flight teams can use protective maneuvers that intentionally turn the optics away from known meteor showers before they are set to occur. This most recent hit was not a result of a meteor shower and is currently considered an unavoidable chance event. As a result of this impact, a specialized team of engineers has been formed to look at ways to mitigate the effects of further micrometeoroid hits of this scale. Over time, the team will collect invaluable data and work with micrometeoroid prediction experts at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to be able to better predict how performance may change, bearing in mind that the telescope’s initial performance is better than expected. Webb’s tremendous size and sensitivity make it a highly sensitive detector of micrometeorites; over time Webb will help improve knowledge of the solar system dust particle environment at L2, for this and future missions.

“With Webb’s mirrors exposed to space, we expected that occasional micrometeoroid impacts would gracefully degrade telescope performance over time,” said Lee Feinberg, Webb optical telescope element manager at NASA Goddard. “Since launch, we have had four smaller measurable micrometeoroid strikes that were consistent with expectations and this one more recently that is larger than our degradation predictions assumed. We will use this flight data to update our analysis of performance over time and also develop operational approaches to assure we maximize the imaging performance of Webb to the best extent possible for many years to come.”

This recent impact caused no change to Webb’s operations schedule, as the team continues to check out the science instruments’ observing modes and prepares for the release of Webb’s first images and the start of science operations.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

NASA's Next Jupiter-bound Orbiter Arrives at JPL for Final Assembly...

An artist's concept of NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft flying above Jupiter's icy moon Europa.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA’s Europa Clipper Mission Completes Main Body of the Spacecraft (News Release)

The agency’s mission to explore Jupiter’s icy moon takes a big step forward as engineers deliver a major component of the spacecraft.

The main body of NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft has been delivered to the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Over the next two years there, engineers and technicians will finish assembling the craft by hand before testing it to make sure it can withstand the journey to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.

The spacecraft body is the mission’s workhorse. Standing 10 feet (3 meters) tall and 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide, it’s an aluminum cylinder integrated with electronics, radios, thermal loop tubing, cabling, and the propulsion system. With its solar arrays and other deployable equipment stowed for launch, Europa Clipper will be as large as an SUV; when extended, the solar arrays make the craft the size of a basketball court. It is the largest NASA spacecraft ever developed for a planetary mission.

“It’s an exciting time for the whole project team and a huge milestone,” said Jordan Evans, the mission’s project manager at JPL. “This delivery brings us one step closer to launch and the Europa Clipper science investigation.”

Set to launch in October 2024, Europa Clipper will conduct nearly 50 flybys of Europa, which scientists are confident harbors an internal ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans combined. And the ocean may currently have conditions suitable for supporting life. The spacecraft’s nine science instruments will gather data on Europa’s atmosphere, surface, and interior – information that scientists will use to gauge the depth and salinity of the ocean, the thickness of the ice crust, and potential plumes that may be venting subsurface water into space.

Those instruments already have begun arriving at JPL, where the phase known as assembly, test, and launch operations has been underway since March. The ultraviolet spectrograph, called Europa-UVS, arrived in March. Next came the spacecraft’s thermal emission imaging instrument, E-THEMIS, delivered by the scientists and engineers leading its development at Arizona State University. E-THEMIS is a sophisticated infrared camera designed to map Europa’s temperatures and help scientists find clues about the moon’s geological activity – including regions where liquid water may be near the surface.

By the end of 2022, most of the flight hardware and the remainder of the science instruments are expected to be complete.

The Whole Package

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, designed Europa Clipper’s body in collaboration with JPL and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The flight system designed, built, and tested by APL – using a team of hundreds of engineers and technicians – was the physically largest system ever built by APL,” said APL’s Tom Magner, the mission’s assistant project manager.

The work on the main module continues now at JPL.

“What arrived at JPL represents essentially an assembly phase unto itself. Under APL’s leadership, this delivery includes work by that institution and two NASA centers. Now the team will take the system to an even higher level of integration,” said Evans.

The main structure is actually two stacked aluminum cylinders dotted with threaded holes for bolting on the spacecraft’s cargo: the radio frequency module, radiation monitors, propulsion electronics, power converters, and wiring. The radio frequency subsystem will power eight antennas, including an enormous high-gain antenna that measures 10 feet (3 meters) wide. The structure’s web of electrical wires and connectors, called the harness, weighs 150 pounds (68 kilograms) by itself; if stretched out, it would run almost 2,100 feet (640 meters) – twice the perimeter of a football field.

The heavy-duty electronics vault, built to withstand the intense radiation of the Jupiter system, will be integrated with the main spacecraft structure along with the science instruments.

Inside the main body of the spacecraft are two tanks – one to hold fuel, one for oxidizer – and the tubing that will carry their contents to an array of 24 engines, where they will combine to create a controlled chemical reaction that produces thrust.

“Our engines are dual purpose,” said JPL’s Tim Larson, the deputy project manager. “We use them for big maneuvers, including when we approach Jupiter and need a large burn to be captured in Jupiter’s orbit. But they’re also designed for smaller maneuvers to manage the attitude of the spacecraft and to fine tune the precision flybys of Europa and other solar system bodies along the way.”

Those big and small maneuvers will come into play a lot during the six-year, 1.8-billion-mile (2.9-billion-kilometer) journey to this ocean world, which Europa Clipper will begin investigating in earnest in 2031.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


Thursday, June 02, 2022

On This Day in 2021: Our Next Journey to Neptune Was Lost...

The ice giant Neptune and its ocean moon Triton will have to wait a bit longer for the next human-made robotic explorer to visit them.

It was one year ago today that the Trident project, which would've involved doing another flyby of Neptune and its moon Triton in 2038, was rejected by NASA in favor of two Venus spacecraft (DAVINCI and VERITAS) as its next Discovery-class interplanetary missions.

As you can see, I'm still disappointed by the selections. I've been waiting since late 2005 for NASA to consider another New Horizons-type mission that would venture into the outer Solar System and beyond, and it seems like Trident would've been the last opportunity for this to take place.

A Neptune orbiter mission known as Neptune Odyssey was also in consideration, but will ultimately not fly anytime soon due to it not being recommended for development in the National Academy of Sciences' latest planetary decadal survey about two months ago.

On the plus side, the National Academy of Sciences will release its heliophysics decadal survey in 2024. One mission currently under consideration by that community-driven study is the Interstellar Probe that I've blogged about a few times already.

Just like Neptune Odyssey, the Interstellar Probe—at least the mission concept that was studied by Johns Hopkins University last year—would rely on NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to begin its 15-year journey to the heliopause and beyond.

The fact that SLS hasn't flown yet (hopefully that will change after a successful wet dress rehearsal at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida about two weeks from now) is one of the reasons why Neptune Odyssey was not recommended in the last decadal survey.

Once SLS successfully lifts off on Artemis 1 this summer, hopefully that will increase Interstellar Probe's chances of being considered by the National Academy of Sciences for development two years from now.

Vastly different mission objectives aside, a spacecraft that will head directly to interstellar space will definitely make up for a robotic probe that would've flown past an ice giant and its intriguing ocean moon in our Solar System on its way to interstellar space as well! Hopefully the National Academy of Sciences and NASA will see it that way too.

Schematics for the Trident spacecraft...if it was built.

Another infographic showing the design of the Trident spacecraft and its science instruments.
L.M. Prockter et al. LPI / JPL / SwRI

An infographic showing the various science instruments that would fly on the proposed Interstellar Probe spacecraft.
John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

The First Official Science Photos from Hubble's Successor Will Be Unveiled Next Month!

A computer-generated image of NASA's James Webb Telescope in deep space.
Adriana Manrique Gutierrez, NASA Animator

First Images From NASA’s Webb Space Telescope Coming Soon (News Release)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), will release its first full-color images and spectroscopic data on July 12, 2022. As the largest and most complex observatory ever launched into space, Webb has been going through a six-month period of preparation before it can begin science work, calibrating its instruments to its space environment and aligning its mirrors. This careful process, not to mention years of new technology development and mission planning, has built up to the first images and data: a demonstration of Webb at its full power, ready to begin its science mission and unfold the infrared universe.

“As we near the end of preparing the observatory for science, we are on the precipice of an incredibly exciting period of discovery about our universe. The release of Webb’s first full-color images will offer a unique moment for us all to stop and marvel at a view humanity has never seen before,” said Eric Smith, Webb program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These images will be the culmination of decades of dedication, talent, and dreams – but they will also be just the beginning.”

Behind the Scenes: Creating Webb’s First Images

Deciding what Webb should look at first has been a project more than five years in the making, undertaken by an international partnership between NASA, ESA, CSA, and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, home to Webb’s science and mission operations.

“Our goals for Webb’s first images and data are both to showcase the telescope’s powerful instruments and to preview the science mission to come,” said astronomer Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at STScI. “They are sure to deliver a long-awaited ‘wow’ for astronomers and the public.”

Once each of Webb’s instruments has been calibrated, tested, and given the green light by its science and engineering teams, the first images and spectroscopic observations will be made. The team will proceed through a list of targets that have been preselected and prioritized by an international committee to exercise Webb’s powerful capabilities. Then the production team will receive the data from Webb’s instrument scientists and process it into images for astronomers and the public.

“I feel very privileged to be a part of it,” said Alyssa Pagan, a science visuals developer at STScI. “Typically, the process from raw telescope data to final, clean image that communicates scientific information about the universe can take anywhere from weeks to a month,” Pagan said.

What Will We See?

While careful planning for Webb’s first full-color images has been underway for a long time, the new telescope is so powerful that it is difficult to predict exactly how the first images will look. “Of course, there are things we are expecting and hoping to see, but with a new telescope and this new high-resolution infrared data, we just won’t know until we see it,” said STScI’s lead science visuals developer Joseph DePasquale.

Early alignment imagery has already demonstrated the unprecedented sharpness of Webb’s infrared view. However, these new images will be the first in full color and the first to showcase Webb’s full science capabilities. In addition to imagery, Webb will be capturing spectroscopic data – detailed information astronomers can read in light. The first images package of materials will highlight the science themes that inspired the mission and will be the focus of its work: the early universe, the evolution of galaxies through time, the lifecycle of stars, and other worlds. All of Webb’s commissioning data – the data taken while aligning the telescope and preparing the instruments – will also be made publicly available.

What’s Next?

Science! After capturing its first images, Webb’s scientific observations will begin, continuing to explore the mission’s key science themes. Teams have already applied through a competitive process for time to use the telescope, in what astronomers call its first “cycle,” or first year of observations. Observations are carefully scheduled to make the most efficient use of the telescope’s time.

These observations mark the official beginning of Webb’s general science operations – the work it was designed to do. Astronomers will use Webb to observe the infrared universe, analyze the data collected, and publish scientific papers on their discoveries.

Beyond what is already planned for Webb, there are the unexpected discoveries astronomers can’t anticipate. One example: In 1990 when the Hubble Space Telescope launched, dark energy was completely unknown. Now it is one of the most exciting areas of astrophysics. What will Webb discover?

Source: NASA.Gov


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Photo of the Day: Developmental Testing Continues for NASA's VIPER Rover Before It Begins Official Assembly Later This Year...

A test version of the VIPER lunar rover rolls down the ramp of Astrobotic's Griffin lander replica at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

NASA Moon Rover Practices Tricky Drive Off Lunar Lander (News Release)

Once it arrives at the Moon's South Pole, NASA's Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) will need to perform one of the trickiest parts of its 100-day mission: driving off the Astrobotic Griffin lunar lander and onto the Moon's surface. After another successful round of testing this “egress” activity, VIPER is one step closer to being ready for launch.

VIPER has already completed several egress exercises, but recent tests at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland were the most realistic yet – using the latest prototype lander and a robotic prototype of the Moon rover that will explore and map the lunar surface in search of resources that could sustain astronauts on future Artemis missions.

Since the goal of this test is to ensure VIPER’s able to handle the rollout onto the lunar surface, engineers designed this prototype to be the most realistic model of its mobility systems while stripping down the rover’s heavier components. Because there’s less gravity on the Moon than on Earth, the rover needs to be lighter to more accurately simulate the conditions found on the lunar surface. Using this unique version of VIPER, the team can verify every aspect of the system is working as intended, and that when the real VIPER egresses, everything will go smoothly.

With several mission procedures still being fine-tuned, this won’t be the last time the VIPER team practices driving rover prototypes down the lander’s ramps. Future tests will take place in the Regolith Testbed at NASA's Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, a facility capable of realistically reproducing the lighting and dusty terrain of the Moon’s environment.

While this test confirmed rover and lander systems are functionally ready to go, future tests will give the rover operations team an opportunity to practice lander egress in conditions as close as possible to what it will be like when they roll out VIPER and leave its first wheel marks on the Moon’s surface through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative.

Source: NASA.Gov