NASA delays VIPER lunar rover launch by a year

WASHINGTON — NASA has delayed the launch of an ice-prospecting lunar rover by a yr to carry out extra testing of its business lander, the company introduced July 18.

NASA mentioned it’s delaying the launch of its Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission from November 2023 to November 2024. The rover is designed to land close to Nobile Crater within the south polar areas of the moon to search for water ice, of curiosity to each lunar scientists and as a useful resource for future human missions.

The one-year delay is to conduct extra floor testing of the Griffin lunar lander that Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic is constructing to ship VIPER to the lunar floor. NASA awarded Astrobotic a process order in June 2020, initially valued at $199.5 million, to move VIPER as a part of the company’s Industrial Lunar Payload Companies (CLPS) program.

NASA mentioned that the extra assessments are supposed to scale back the danger of touchdown VIPER. To conduct the work, NASA is including $67.8 million to the Astrobotic order that, with earlier will increase, brings the worth of the award to $320.4 million.

VIPER is by far the most important and costliest payload assigned to a CLPS mission up to now, with an official value estimate of $433.5 million. That has clashed with NASA’s “photographs on objective” strategy to CLPS the place the company has emphasised the next tolerance of threat, and of mission failures, to maintain prices down.

“VIPER is NASA’s largest and most refined science payload to be delivered to the Moon via CLPS, and we’ve carried out enhanced lander testing for this specific CLPS floor supply,” Joel Kearns, deputy affiliate administrator for exploration in NASA’s science mission directorate, mentioned within the company assertion.

An audit of the VIPER mission by NASA’s Workplace of Inspector Normal, revealed in April, famous that NASA instituted “augmented oversight” of the CLPS process order to Astrobotic given the upper value and significance of VIPER in comparison with different CLPS missions. That oversight consists of conferences thrice every week amongst NASA and Astrobotic personnel to debate points with each VIPER and the Griffin lander.

That audit additionally famous that NASA’s determination to pick out a lander earlier than finalizing the design of VIPER led to value will increase. VIPER didn’t full its vital design evaluation till October 2021, greater than a yr after the CLPS award, and the audit discovered a number of points, corresponding to a rise in mass of the rover and considerations about extra vibration, that led to modifications within the Astrobotic CLPS process order that elevated its worth.

“Extra modifications stay a chance, because the rover and Griffin Lander have but to finish their designs and finalize their necessities,” the audit said. “Additionally, as a result of CLPS is a brand new acquisition mannequin for NASA, extra revisions could develop into essential because the undertaking matures and classes are realized.”

One other threat is that Astrobotic has but to launch its first lunar lander mission, Peregrine. The corporate unveiled the lander, nonetheless in ultimate meeting, in April, and plans to launch it as quickly as late this yr on the inaugural flight of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur. Whereas Griffin is a special, bigger lander, the audit famous that the landers share subsystems and any issues with them discovered on Peregrine’s mission might have an effect on growth of Griffin.

This isn’t the primary delay for VIPER. When the company introduced the rover mission in 2019, it was projecting a launch in late 2022 with a value of $250 million. By the point the company awarded the CLPS process order for VIPER to Astrobotic, the company had delayed its launch to late 2023 to reinforce the rover and permit it to function for 100 days, versus the 14 initially deliberate. That additionally contributed to the price improve for the rover.

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