Tuesday, April 9, 2024

NASA selects companies for lunar terrain vehicle program

NASA has selected three companies- Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost, and Venturi Astrolab, to develop a lunar terrain vehicle (LTV) that Artemis astronauts will use to travel around the lunar surface and conduct scientific research during the agency’s Artemis campaign.

NASA is leveraging its expertise in developing and operating rovers to build commercial capabilities that support scientific discovery and long-term human exploration on the Moon. NASA plans to begin using the LTV for crewed operations during Artemis V.

“We look forward to the development of the Artemis generation lunar exploration vehicle to help us advance what we learn at the Moon,” said Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “This vehicle will greatly increase our astronauts’ ability to explore and conduct science on the lunar surface while also serving as a science platform between crewed missions.”

An artist’s concept of Lunar Outpost's Lunar Dawn lunar terrain vehicle.
An artist’s concept of Lunar Outpost’s Lunar Dawn lunar terrain vehicle. Credit: Lunar Outpost

NASA will acquire the Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) as a service from industry. The Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services contract has a potential value of $4.6 billion for all awards. The providers will start with a feasibility task order, which will be a year-long study to develop a system that meets NASA’s requirements.

After that, NASA will issue a request for a task order proposal to eligible providers for a demonstration mission to continue developing the LTV and deliver it to the surface of the Moon.

NASA anticipates awarding only one provider for the demonstration. The agency will issue additional task orders to provide unpressurized rover capabilities for the agency’s moonwalking and scientific exploration needs through 2039.

An artist’s concept of Intuitive Machines' Moon RACER lunar terrain vehicle.
An artist’s concept of Intuitive Machines’ Moon RACER lunar terrain vehicle. Credit: Intuitive Machines

The LTV will be able to handle the extreme conditions at the Moon’s South Pole and will feature advanced technologies for power management, autonomous driving, and communication and navigation systems. Crews will use the LTV to explore, transport scientific equipment, and collect samples of the lunar surface, much farther than they could on foot, enabling increased science returns.

And even when crews are not on the Moon, the LTV will still be operational to support scientific objectives. Plus, the provider will have the ability to use their LTV for commercial lunar surface activities unrelated to NASA missions.

An artist’s concept of Venturi Astrolab's FLEX lunar terrain vehicle.
An artist’s concept of Venturi Astrolab’s FLEX lunar terrain vehicle. Credit: Astrolab

“We will use the LTV to travel to locations we might not otherwise be able to reach on foot, increasing our ability to explore and make new scientific discoveries,” said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist in the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With the Artemis crewed missions, and during remote operations when there is not a crew on the surface, we are enabling science and discovery on the Moon year around.”

NASA has provided clear technical requirements, capabilities, and safety standards for the development and operation of Lunar Terrain Vehicles (LTVs). The selected companies have agreed to meet the key agency requirements. The contract request for proposal required each provider to propose a solution to provide end-to-end services, including LTV development, delivery to the Moon, and execution of operations on the lunar surface.

NASA plans to send astronauts to the Moon through the Artemis program, including the first woman, the first person of color, and the first international partner astronaut. Advanced rovers, SLS (Space Launch System) rocket, Orion spacecraft, commercial human landing systems, next-generation spacesuits, and Gateway will work together to enable deep space exploration and bring scientific discovery, economic benefits, and technological evolution.