The last time humans visited the moon, in 1972, they got around on a relatively simple battery-powered vehicle. As NASA prepares for the next crewed mission to the moon, it’s looking to give the lunar rover an upgrade.
Lockheed Martin and General Motors said Wednesday they're working together to develop a next-generation lunar vehicle designed to be faster and capable of traveling farther distances than its predecessor. If the project is selected by NASA, the rover would be used on the upcoming Artemis missions. The first mission, which will be an uncrewed test flight, is scheduled for November. The request for proposals will likely be published in the third or fourth quarter of this year, executives said at a media briefing Wednesday. NASA will award the contract after evaluating the submitted proposals.
The previous rover was only capable of traveling less than five miles from the Apollo landing site, limiting the astronauts’ ability to collect important data on far-flung lunar locales, like the north and south poles. The moon’s circumference is nearly 7,000 miles. The two companies are aiming to improve the specs, Lockheed’s VP for lunar exploration Kirk Shireman said, noting that the exact materials used for the new rover, its range and other capabilities have yet to be determined.
GM will also be developing an autonomous driving system for the rover, which executives said Wednesday will improve safety and the ability for 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, Jeffrey Ryder, VP of growth and strategy at GM Defense, said. “We’re heads-down right now in investigating how we would take those capabilities and apply them to specific missions and operation associated with the Artemis program.”
GM also said it will be using its earth-bound research into battery and propulsion systems in developing the rover. Ryder anticipates that the rover program will lead to other market opportunities.
Both companies have supplied technology for NASA missions before, including its lunar missions. Auto manufacturer GM helped develop the lunar rover that was used during the Apollo era, including its chassis and wheels. It also manufactured and integrated guidance and navigational systems for the program. Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin’s experience extends to building spacecraft and power systems that have been included on every NASA mission to Mars.
The companies said this was “one of several initiatives” they’re working on together, with further announcements regarding other projects expected in the future.