A team of engineers at Honeybee Robotics in Altadena, California, prepares to integrate TRIDENT – short for The Regolith Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrain – into NASA’s first robotic Moon rover, VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover).
TRIDENT is the fourth and final science instrument to be installed into VIPER. NASA engineers have already successfully integrated VIPER’s three other science instruments into the rover: the MSOLO (Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations), NIRVSS (Near-Infrared Volatiles Spectrometer System), and NSS (Neutron Spectrometer System).
In the clean room at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, the team also successfully tested TRIDENT’s ability to power on, release the locks that hold the drill in place during launch, extend to its full depth of more than three feet (one meter), perform percussive drilling, and return to its stowed position inside the rover.
TRIDENT will dig up soil from below the lunar surface using a rotary percussive drill. It both spins to cut into the ground and hammers to fragment hard material for more energy-efficient drilling. Additionally, the drill carries a temperature sensor to take readings below the surface. VIPER will launch to the Moon aboard Astrobotic’s Griffin lunar lander on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative.
VIPER will reach its destination at Mons Mouton near the Moon’s South Pole, where scientists will work with these four instruments to better understand the origin of water and other resources on the Moon, which could support human exploration as part of NASA’s Artemis campaign.