NASA announces new moon rover bid


NASA on Wednesday awarded contracts to 3 industrial house corporations to develop autonomous rovers that the house company would use to maneuver cargo and other people on the floor of the moon because it seeks to construct a permanent presence there.

The rovers would enable astronauts to traverse extra of the lunar floor, particularly as NASA seeks to discover the lunar South Pole, the place there’s ice within the completely shadowed craters. The rovers would function even when astronauts will not be on the moon — much like how NASA’s rovers have crisscrossed Mars for years.

The distinction with these moon rovers, nonetheless, is that the automobiles will likely be operated by the businesses in partnership with NASA, and the businesses would be capable of pursue industrial alternatives with them as NASA seeks to assist construct a lunar economic system.

The profitable corporations are Houston-based Intuitive Machines, which just lately grew to become the primary industrial enterprise to ship a spacecraft to the lunar floor; Venturi Astrolab, a start-up primarily based exterior of Los Angeles; and Lunar Outpost, primarily based exterior of Denver. Combined, the contracts have a most potential worth of $4.6 billion over 15 years for the event of what NASA calls lunar terrain automobiles.

“As astronauts explore the south pole region of the moon during Artemis missions, they’ll be able to go farther and conduct more science than ever before, thanks to the lunar terrain vehicle,” Vanessa Wyche, the director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, mentioned throughout a briefing. “Think of a hybrid of the Apollo-style lunar rover that was driven by our astronauts and an uncrewed mobile science platform. This will give the crew the capability to travel a distance much farther from their landing site. In addition, during uncrewed operations, that LTV will provide autonomous operations for science and technology.”

The awards characterize one other down fee by NASA on its Artemis program, which the company hopes won’t solely return astronauts to the lunar floor however will construct a base there.

Over the years, the house company has invested tens of billions of {dollars} within the Artemis program, together with improvement of the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion crew capsule, that are to hold the astronauts to the neighborhood of the moon. NASA has additionally awarded contracts for a pair of lunar landers — being constructed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin — to ferry astronauts to and from the floor. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The house company is investing in new spacesuits and new applied sciences, corresponding to mining, moon habitats and vitality technology, together with a program from Blue Origin to remodel the lunar dust, or regolith, into photo voltaic cells.

In addition to creating expertise that may enable astronauts to “live off the land” whereas on the moon, NASA is searching for methods to develop how a lot of the lunar floor they’ll discover. In a press release final yr, NASA mentioned it desires automobiles that astronauts “will drive to explore and sample more of the lunar surface using the LTV than they could on foot.”

“As we found on Apollo, one to two kilometers is about as far as you want to walk in a suit on the lunar surface,” Steve Munday, NASA’s LTV program supervisor, mentioned in an interview final yr. “So you need something else. You need to extend that range, both for transportation and for science.”

But since astronauts could be on the floor just for as much as 30 days at a time, the car must be helpful with out astronauts on board. Between crewed missions, the LTVs would “transport cargo and scientific payloads between crewed landing sites, enabling additional science returns, resource prospecting and lunar exploration,” the company mentioned in a press release.

NASA mentioned it could pay for one of many suppliers to land its rover on the moon earlier than the third human touchdown beneath Artemis. That touchdown is deliberate for the tip of the last decade.

Venturi Astrolab, which is partnering with Axiom Space and Odyssey Space Research, introduced final yr that it had signed a contract with SpaceX to ship its car, the Flexible Logistics and Exploration Rover (FLEX). It hopes to first land on the moon in 2026, mentioned chief government and founder Jaret Matthews.

With SpaceX’s Starship rocket and a variety of new spacecraft being constructed to land on the moon, “we’re at a point in history now where you can actually start to contemplate industrial-scale activity happening at the lunar south pole,” Matthews mentioned throughout the briefing. “And we’re trying to build a platform to support it.”

For Intuitive Machines, which is partnering with AVL, Boeing, Michelin and Northrop Grumman, the contract award is one other step in increasing its work on the moon after the touchdown of its Odysseus spacecraft earlier this yr. “It’s just an exciting next step to put the first critical piece of infrastructure on the surface” of the moon, CEO Steve Altemus mentioned.

Lunar Outpost is creating a fleet of rovers, CEO Justin Cyrus mentioned, and intends to ship its first to the lunar floor on an Intuitive Machines spacecraft later this yr. The firm is teaming with Lockheed Martin, General Motors, Goodyear and MDA Space.

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