2021 in Review: Highlights from NASA in Silicon Valley

Ingenuity Mars helicopter flies on the Red Planet. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Join us as we look back at the highlights of 2021 at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

1) NASA’s water-hunting Moon rover, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, made great strides this year. The VIPER team successfully completed practice runs of the full-scale assembly of the Artemis program’s lunar rover in VIPER’s new clean room. Two rounds of egress testing let rover drivers practice exiting the lander and rolling onto the rocky surface of the Moon. NASA also announced the landing site selected for the robotic rover, which will be delivered to the Nobile region of the Moon’s South Pole in late 2023 as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. NASA also chose eight new VIPER science team members and their proposals to expand and complement VIPER’s already existing science team and planned investigations. This year’s progress contributed to VIPER’s completion of its Critical Design Review, turning the mission’s focus toward construction of the rover beginning in late 2022.

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NASA Glenn Continued Research in 2021 for Space Exploration and Next-Gen Aeronautics

Credit: NASA

CLEVELAND, Ohio (NASA PR) — Looking deeper at the way fire behaves in space, Glenn researchers delivered the fifth in a series of NASA investigations in January. The Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiment-V (Saffire-V) successfully tested larger, more dynamic fires for over 26 hours inside Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft.

As NASA Glenn continued to manage the difficulties of the pandemic, scientific and technology research continued at a rapid clip this year with an eye toward the future.

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NASA Selects New Members for Artemis Rover Science Team

VIPER rover on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — When NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, explores and samples the soils at the Moon’s South Pole, scientists anticipate it will reveal answers to some of the Moon’s enduring mysteries. Where is the water and how much is there? Where did the Moon’s water come from? What other resources are there?

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Astrobotic’s Hazard Detection System to Take Flight

Credit: Astrobotic

Astrobotic leading the way in Hazard Detection for space missions with latest NASA award.

PITTSBURGH, PA Tuesday, December 28, 2021 (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic announced today it was selected to receive funding for its LiDAR-based Hazard Detection sensor (LHD) as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities TechFlights solicitation. This LHD sensor will assist in the safe landing of Astrobotic’s Griffin lander, the largest lunar lander since Apollo’s Lunar Module. Griffin will be carrying NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, to the lunar surface.

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NASA’s Artemis Rover to Land Near Nobile Region of Moon’s South Pole

A data visualization showing the mountainous area west of Nobile Crater and the smaller craters that litter its rim at the lunar South Pole. The region features areas permanently covered in shadow as well as areas that are bathed in sunlight most of the time. The terrain in the Nobile region is most suitable for the VIPER rover to navigate, communicate, and characterize potential water and other resources. (Credits: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — In 2023, NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) will land near the western edge of the Nobile Crater at the Moon’s South Pole to map and explore the region’s surface and subsurface for water and other resources. Part of Artemis, VIPER will launch on a SpaceX Falcon-Heavy rocket for delivery to the Moon by Astrobotic’s Griffin lander under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative.

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NASA to Announce Landing Site for Artemis Lunar Robotic Rover

NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, is a mobile robot that will roam around the Moon’s south pole looking for water ice. The VIPER mission will give us surface-level detail of where the water is and how much is available for us to use. This will bring us a significant step closer towards NASA’s ultimate goal of a sustainable, long-term presence on the Moon – making it possible to eventually explore Mars and beyond. (Credit: NASA Ames/Daniel Rutter)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley invites members of the news media to a media teleconference Monday, Sept. 20 at 1 p.m. PDT, to announce the lunar landing site for the agency’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER. Ames manages the VIPER mission, and leads the mission’s science, systems engineering, real-time rover surface operations, and flight software.

The rover will be delivered to the Moon’s surface in late 2023 under the Artemis program and part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative.

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Apollo to Artemis: Drilling on the Moon

This mini-panorama combines two photographs taken by Apollo 15 lunar module pilot Jim Irwin, from the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) site, at the end of the second Apollo 15 moonwalk on August 1, 1971. Scott is leaning to his right and is putting down the Apollo Lunar Surface drill used to take core samples and set up a heat flow experiment. The Solar Wind Spectrometer is in the right foreground. The min-pan of photographs AS15-11845 and 11847 was combined by Erik van Meijgaarden, volunteer contributor to the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal site. (Credits: Erik van Meijgaarden)

By Leejay Lockhart
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Fifty years ago, Apollo 15 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center, sending Commander David R. Scott, Command Module Pilot Alfred M. Worden, and Lunar Module Pilot James B. Irwin on the first of three Apollo “J” missions. These missions gave astronauts the opportunity to explore the Moon for longer periods using upgraded and more plentiful scientific instruments than ever before. Apollo 15 was the first mission where astronauts used the Apollo Lunar Surface Drill (ALSD) and the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).

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New Maps Help Developers Plan Lunar Road Trip for VIPER’s Artemis Mission

VIPER rover on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — As any seasoned road-tripper knows, to get the most out of an adventure, a good map helps. It’s no different for NASA’s first lunar robotic rover planned for delivery to the Moon in late 2023 to search for ice and other resources on and below the lunar surface. The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, is part of the agency’s Artemis program. Without a Moon travel guide, VIPER’s mission planners are creating new high resolution, digital elevation maps of the lunar surface.

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Astrobotic MoonRanger Moves into Final Production

MoonRanger (Credit: Astrobotic)

PITTSBURGH (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic announced today that MoonRanger, an autonomous rover that will explore the lunar South Pole in 2022, passed NASA’s Key Decision Point (KDP) review and is in the final stage of the payload preparation phase, culminating in flight hardware fabrication.

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NASA Artemis Program Faces Significant Challenges on Human Lunar Landing in 2024

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The combination of an ambitious schedule, technical challenges and immature technology will make it difficult for NASA to meet its goal of landing two astronauts on the moon in 2024, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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NASA Rover to Search for Water, Other Resources on Moon

NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, is a mobile robot that will roam around the Moon’s south pole looking for water ice. The VIPER mission will give us surface-level detail of where the water is and how much is available for us to use. This will bring us a significant step closer towards NASA’s ultimate goal of a sustainable, long-term presence on the Moon – making it possible to eventually explore Mars and beyond. (Credit: NASA Ames/Daniel Rutter)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — As part of the Artemis program, NASA is planning to send its first mobile robot to the Moon in late 2023 in search of ice and other resources on and below the lunar surface. Data from the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, would help the agency map resources at the lunar South Pole that could one day be harvested for long-term human exploration at the Moon. 

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Astrobotic Selects SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket for Griffin-VIPER Moon Mission

Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

PITTSBURGH (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic announced today its selection of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket in a competitive commercial procurement to launch its Griffin lunar lander to the Moon in late 2023. Griffin will be carrying NASA’s water-hunting Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER). 

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NASA Selects Astrobotic for 2 Small Business Awards to Improve Spacecraft Operations

A rendering of Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander is shown, with NASA’s three water-detecting payloads (MSolo, NSS, and NIRVSS) highlighted in blue. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected Astrobotic Technology for two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards to develop technology to help spacecraft improve proximity operations in orbit and avoid hazards when landing on other worlds.

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COVID-19 Delays to Cost NASA $3 Billion

High-resolution illustration of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope against a starry background. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will cost NASA an estimated $3 billion due to program delays, according to a report from the space agency’s Office of Inspector General.

The report focused on the pandemic’s impact on 30 major programs and project with life-cycle costs of at least $250 million.

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