NASA taps trio of companies to build the next generation of lunar rover

At $4.6 billion, this Moon malarkey is getting expensive

NASA has selected three companies to develop designs for a lunar terrain vehicle (LTV) to transport astronauts around the Moon.

Worth $4.6 billion in total, the award will kick off with a year-long feasibility task order before eventually resulting in an LTV that will see action as part of the Artemis V mission, possibly in 2029.

The agency said: "NASA will issue additional task orders to provide unpressurized rover capabilities for the agency's moonwalking and scientific exploration needs through 2039."

Only one provider will receive the award for a demonstration mission ahead of Artemis V to validate the vehicle's performance and safety.

Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost, and Venturi Astrolab are the three companies selected.

Intuitive Machines' pitch is the Moon RACER [PDF], and its partners include Boeing and Northrop Grumman, as well as Michelin and AVL (Anstalt fur Verbrennungskraftmaschinen List). Michelin will be responsible for the wheels, Northrop Grumman will deal with the power systems, and Boeing will lead the LTV system's design and support the vehicle's fabrication and testing.

Lunar Outpost is leaning on Lockheed Martin, General Motors, Goodyear, and MDA Space for its Lunar Dawn vehicle. GM will be tasked with providing the chassis and powertrain, Goodyear will be working on the tires, and MDA Space will deal with the robotics – essential for the uncrewed uses NASA forsees for the LTV.

Rounding out the trio is Venturi Astrolab, which showed off its prototype of a Moon buggy in 2022. The design has improved in the months since, according to the company.

Astrolab said its contract was worth up to $1.9 billion, and partners include Axiom Space and Odyssey Space Research.

The full amount of funding will not be disbursed immediately. Intuitive Machines said that creating the feasibility roadmap would net $30 million.

NASA plans to use the rover to transport crews and equipment around the lunar surface. The LTV provider will also be able to use the vehicle for commercial purposes unrelated to NASA activities between the Artemis missions, which are currently expected to take place once a year.

It will be more than 50 years since NASA last used a rover to transport its astronauts on the Moon. Apollo 15, 16, and 17 all used a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) carried on the side of the Lunar Module. All three rovers remain on the Moon. A fourth was constructed for the canceled Apollo 18 mission but used instead for spare parts.

According to NASA, the prime contractor for the Apollo LRV was Boeing (with Delco as a major sub-contractor). The original cost-plus-incentive-fee contract was worth $19 million, but the final cost was $38 million, or a shade under $300 million in 2024 dollars.

The Apollo LRV was developed in 17 months. ®

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