The last time humans visited the moon, in 1972, they rode a relatively simple battery-powered vehicle. As NASA prepares for the next manned mission to the moon, it seeks to improve the lunar rover.
Lockheed Martin and General Motors said on Wednesday they were working together to develop a next-generation lunar vehicle designed to be faster and able to travel longer distances than its predecessor. If the project is selected by NASA, the rover would be used on the next Artemis missions. The first mission, which will be an unmanned test flight, is scheduled for November. The call for proposals will likely be released in the third or fourth quarter of this year, executives said at a press conference on Wednesday. NASA will award the contract after evaluating the submitted proposals.
The previous rover was only able to travel within five miles of the Apollo landing site, limiting the ability of astronauts to collect important data at distant lunar locations, like the north and south poles. The moon’s circumference is almost 7,000 miles. Both companies aim to improve specifications, said Kirk Shireman, Lockheed’s vice president for lunar exploration, noting that the exact materials used for the new rover, its range and other capabilities have yet to be determined.
GM will also develop an autonomous driving system for the rover, which executives say will improve safety and the ability of astronauts to collect samples and conduct other scientific research. GM is investing more than $ 27 billion in electric and autonomous vehicle technologies through 2025, and it aims to bring that research to the lunar rover project, said Jeffrey Ryder, vice president of growth and strategy at GM Defense. “We are currently studying headlong into how we might use these capabilities and apply them to specific missions and operations associated with the Artemis program.”
GM also said it would use its ground research into battery and propulsion systems to develop the rover. Ryder expects the rover program to lead to other market opportunities.
The two companies have previously supplied technology for NASA missions, including its lunar missions. The automaker GM was instrumental in the development of the lunar rover used in the Apollo era, including its chassis and wheels. He also manufactured and integrated guidance and navigation systems for the program. Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin’s experience extends to building spacecraft and power systems that have been included in every NASA mission to Mars.
The companies said it was “one of many initiatives” they were working on together, with further announcements of other projects expected in the future.