NASA’s VIPER Moon rover clears scary test
NASA's first robotic Moon rover passes Steep, Scary Lander Exit Test
NASA's Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), the agency's inaugural robotic Moon rover, has accomplished a significant milestone in its preparations for lunar exploration. The mobile robot recently underwent a series of rigorous tests to ensure its safe navigation off the Astrobotic Griffin lunar lander and onto the lunar surface. This operation, known as egress, poses one of the most challenging aspects of the rover's upcoming 100-day mission, according to NASA.
Conducted at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, the recent tests utilized VIPER rover and Griffin lander prototypes. Their objective was to push VIPER's systems to their limits, ensuring that the rover performs as expected during its scientific mission. Engineers employed the Moon Gravitation Representative Unit 3 (MGRU3) prototype to drive VIPER down the lander's ramps in various test configurations at the Ames facility. Through these tests, engineers gained a better understanding of how the rover would behave under normal and unusual scenarios.
NASA explained that the lunar lander's ramps are designed to accommodate different terrains encountered on the lunar surface. Depending on the conditions near the landing site, the ramps may have steep angles or uneven surfaces. This presents challenges as the rover may experience traction loss or encounter imbalanced ramps. The recent tests assessed VIPER's capability to handle such tricky terrains and ensure its safe exit from the lander.
Jasper Wolfe, VIPER egress test lead at Ames, stated, "Through this series, we've tested all of the 'bounding' cases for VIPER's egress on the Moon." He further added, "This included the worst-case high-pitch scenario using the steepest – and scariest – ramps, the worst-case roll scenario using the most uneven ramps, and the worst-case scenario with pitch and roll combined."
The successful completion of these tests indicates that VIPER should be able to safely leave the lander even if it lands in a challenging location, marking a significant advancement towards its mission.
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