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Home Technology NASA seeks bids for brand new autonomous moon rover

NASA seeks bids for brand new autonomous moon rover


As a part of its marketing campaign to return astronauts to the moon, NASA has awarded contracts for new lunar landers, new spacesuits and even an area station that will orbit the moon. Subsequent up: new wheels.

NASA has opened competitors to construct a moon automobile that will be a cross between the Apollo-era “moon buggy” that astronauts drove on the lunar floor and the remotely operated robotic rovers which have operated on Mars for years.

Referred to as the “Lunar Terrain Automobile,” the rover would play a key function in NASA’s Artemis program, which seeks to create the infrastructure on and across the lunar floor that will enable for a long-term and sustainable human presence. To realize that, the house company is working to develop sources of energy on the moon, in addition to the applied sciences that will enable astronauts to “reside off the land” by mining lunar assets and even utilizing the lunar regolith, or lunar mud, to create constructing blocks that might be used to create habitats.

Transportation can be a key part. In a press release final week, NASA mentioned it desires autos that astronauts “will drive to discover and pattern extra of the lunar floor utilizing the LTV than they might on foot.”

The moon beckons as soon as once more. This time, NASA desires to remain.

“As we discovered on Apollo, one to 2 kilometers is about so far as you wish to stroll in a swimsuit on the lunar floor,” Steve Munday, NASA’s LTV program supervisor, mentioned in an interview. “So that you want one thing else. It is advisable to prolong that vary, each for transportation and for science.”

However since astronauts could be on the floor just for as much as 30 days at a time, the automobile would have to be helpful with out astronauts on board. Between crewed missions, the LTVs could be used to “transport cargo and scientific payloads between crewed touchdown websites, enabling further science returns, useful resource prospecting and lunar exploration,” the company mentioned in a press release.

For varied missions, NASA can pay to make use of the rover for its functions. “However then, the opposite a number of months of the yr, it’ll be as much as the supplier to commercialize it,” Munday mentioned. “So we’re not solely leveraging business innovation however serving to to drive this nascent lunar economic system.”

Paying prospects may embrace firms performing science experiments on the moon or prospecting for assets.

NASA intends to make use of the lunar rover with astronauts starting with the third human spaceflight mission of its Artemis program — often known as Artemis V — which is tentatively scheduled for 2029. However the rover could be used for uncrewed and potential business actions earlier than then.

NASA additionally plans to ship what it calls its Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, to the moon as quickly as late subsequent yr. It could discover the moon’s south pole, NASA says, on a 100-day mission to seek for water on the moon and assist NASA resolve how greatest to entry it.

One of many firms aiming to be first within the LTV competitors is a start-up known as Venturi Astrolab, based by Jaret Matthews, a former SpaceX and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer.

This yr, the corporate introduced that it had signed a contract with SpaceX to ship its land automobile, the Versatile Logistics and Exploration Rover, or FLEX. Set to occur as early as mid-2026, the mission could be the primary business foray for SpaceX’s Starship rocket, which NASA additionally intends to make use of to ferry its astronauts to and from the lunar floor for the primary two landings underneath Artemis.

The rover is designed to be, because the identify implies, versatile. Its modular design will enable it to swap out payloads and serve totally different missions over time, Matthews mentioned. Venturi Astrolab mentioned it has signed agreements for business payloads however didn’t present particulars on them.

“It’s actually about finally enabling a sustained human presence and all that entails,” Matthews mentioned in an interview. “Simply because the Worldwide House Station has a steady movement of consumables heading to it, the identical is prone to be true for the primary a number of many years of operations on the moon. And that’s the place we see ourselves — serving that market.”

Different bidders embrace a few of the greatest names in aerospace teaming up with car producers, together with Lockheed Martin and Common Motors, a partnership the businesses say would convey extraordinary experience, given the tough atmosphere of the moon. For the Artemis missions, NASA desires to discover the moon’s south pole, the place there may be water within the type of ice. However there are also harshly chilly nights that may final 14 days at a time.

“At present, what we demand is one thing that’s extremely succesful,” mentioned Kirk Shireman, the vp for Lockheed Martin’s lunar exploration marketing campaign. “It will likely be autonomous. One of many huge issues is that it might probably survive the lunar night time, that are lengthy and really, very chilly. And electronics don’t like very, very chilly.”

The protection contractor Leidos is pairing up with NASCAR. Sierra House is teaming up with Teledyne Brown Engineering and Nissan. Northrop Grumman, in the meantime, is in talks to group up with Intuitive Machines, a Houston-based firm additionally constructing a lunar lander.

“These sorts of untraditional partnerships [are] very encouraging for the form of innovation and the vary of designs we might get for this proposal,” Munday mentioned.

A contract award is anticipated by November.


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