Space

Next-generation Lunar Rover will be built by Lunar Outpost and Lockheed Martin

Next-generation Lunar Rover

NASA has awarded a Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services (LTVS) contract to the Lunar Dawn team, led by Lunar Outpost as the prime contractor along with its principal partner Lockheed Martin and teammates General Motors (GM), The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, and MDA Space. The diverse team combines proven robotic and human space exploration heritage, cutting edge technology and automotive industry strengths to create a true off-road vehicle for living and working on the Moon’s surface.

This next-generation Lunar rover (or Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) will enable the exploration of the surface of the Moon in unprecedented fashion as part of NASA’s Artemis campaign. It will dramatically extend the range that astronauts can travel from their landing sites as they perform high-priority science investigations on the Moon. When not in use by NASA, the LTV will provide commercial services, contributing to a more accessible and sustainable cislunar economy.

“Surface mobility is a critical capability for humanity’s future in space, and Lunar Outpost looks forward to driving value in the cislunar economy by providing a reliable, safe and capable vehicle that will be used to provide mobility to Artemis astronauts and perform critical missions autonomously on the Moon for commercial endeavors,” said Lunar Outpost CEO, Justin Cyrus, in a Lockheed Martin news release. “We look forward to leveraging the strengths of Lockheed Martin, a company with extensive human and advanced space systems experience, and our other industry teammates, GM, Goodyear and MDA Space, to provide an unparalleled technical offering at a commercially viable price point.”

The Vehicle

The Lunar Dawn LTV will afford Artemis astronauts with an exceptional experience rooted in safety and convenience, including a flight deck-forward design that provides expansive views for navigating the challenging lunar environment.

Lunar Dawn’s LTV led by Lunar Outpost represents an extraordinarily capable off-road robotic transportation system to carry both crew and cargo on the surfaces of Moon, Mars, and beyond. The LTV is the most capable vehicle for use on other planetary bodies ever created, capable of carrying significant cargo alongside a human crew.

“These unique technologies will enable the future of critical infrastructure required for a sustainable presence in space where humans can live, work far from Earth,” said Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin. “Lockheed Martin is thrilled to be combining expertise with a diverse set of companies to embark on this next generation rover that will expand exploration and our understanding of the lunar surface.”

The Lunar Dawn team’s vehicle exceeds all the requirements set forth by NASA and was designed with mission growth capability in mind. Several of the vehicle’s capabilities and features include:

Advanced autonomous navigation and operation, with or without astronauts onboard.

LTV’s capabilities

Capabilities for robust and diverse commercial use, including a reconfigurable cargo bed that allows for the changing of payloads with its robust robotic arm.

A concept of a Lunar Outpost moon rover driving on the lunar surface with astronauts aboard.

The ability to not only survive, but to operate, during the two-week long lunar nights with temperatures down to -280 degrees Fahrenheit; this novel technology extends mission life from days to many years.

The LTV is capable of operating in the most extreme environments continuously. With minimal need for maintenance and a focus on Astronaut safety, the LTV will enable the Artemis campaign to thrive furthering critical Science objectives and enabling a sustainable Moon base.

New mission profiles to build and maintain infrastructure, extract resources, and perform extended exploration missions are now possible.

The Lunar Dawn team is comprised of titans of their respective industries, who have been selected for their leading technology and proven ability to deliver space systems that can reliably operate in the toughest conditions.

The Industry Team behind the next-generation Lunar Rover

As the lead of the Lunar Dawn Team, Lunar Outpost is pioneering a new teaming paradigm for the space industry. Lunar Outpost brings its speed and agility, track record of venture capital investors, keen understanding of the commercial market and direct lunar rover experience to this program. Lunar Outpost specializes in advanced spacecraft and robotic systems. As the only company presently contracted to design four lunar rovers and two already built and qualified, Lunar Outpost is the leading commercial planetary mobility provider. Lunar Outpost’s commercial Lunar Rover missions reaching the Moon this year will serve as LTVS pathfinder missions that enable the team the exclusive ability to test technologies and gather data to further the LTV development.

  • Lockheed Martin brings decades of experience delivering highly complex deep space vehicles including the complexities that come with human space flight on programs like Orion, Human Landing System Cislunar Transporter and planetary missions such as Lucy and OSIRIS-REx.
  • General Motors is bringing its advanced Ultium EV battery technology along with extensive chassis and suspension development heritage. General Motors’ experience on Lunar Surface mobility goes back to their contributions to the wheels, motor, and suspension of NASA’s Lunar Roving Vehicle during the Apollo Program.
  • Goodyear is developing the rover’s tires leveraging years of experience in lunar mobility, dating back to Apollo missions.
  • MDA Space draws from decades of experience in human spaceflight robotics and is providing the robotic arm and robotic interfaces, enabling a versatile ability to place and maintain commercial payloads.

The famous “moon buggy, ” the Apollo lunar rover

The new Lunar rover will be similar to that famous “moon buggy” in some ways. It will be unpressurized, for example, meaning astronauts who ride it will need to keep their spacesuits on. It will also be a two-person vehicle, like the Apollo rover.

But according to Space.com, the Artemis car will be different in some key ways. Most importantly, it will be able to move without anyone in the driver’s seat, something the old moon buggy couldn’t do.

The Apollo lunar rover was a battery-powered space buggy. The astronauts on Apollo 15, 16, and 17 used it to explore their landing sites and to travel greater distances than astronauts on earlier missions. The lunar rover neatly folded up inside the lunar lander during trips to the Moon. Once on the Moon’s surface, it unfolded with the help of springs. The lunar rover carried two astronauts and was manually driven. It was designed to climb steep slopes, to go over rocks, and to move easily over the Moon’s regolith. It was able to carry more than twice its own weight in passengers, scientific instruments, rocks, and regolith samples. The wheels on the rover were made of wire mesh (piano wire) with titanium cleats for treads. Engineers did not use solid or air-filled rubber tires because they would have been much heavier than were the wire mesh wheels.

Apollo 15 – Commander David Scott drives the Lunar Rover near the LM Falcon

Photo credit: NASA and Lunar Outpost

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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