NASA needs a new car for astronauts at the South Pole of the Moon
The search has begun for the next generation buggy for the upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon.
While previous lunar vehicles, used during the Apollo missions in the 1970s, were designed for the relatively pleasant climate of the Moon’s equatorial region (or slightly north of it), NASA’s Artemis missions are planned for lunar south polewhere conditions are expected to be significantly harsher.
NASA has begun the contracting process (opens in new tab) for private industry to build next month’s rover, officially known as the Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV), which Artemis astronauts will use to traverse the area around the moon’s south pole and beyond. A new draft request for proposals, which is the first step in a lengthy contracting process, has reported (opens in new tab) for industry partners to review and comment before making a formal proposal for LTV construction.
“This blueprint is one of the first important steps in this exciting project that will allow astronauts to explore the Moon further than ever before,” Lara Kearney, program manager for Extravehicular Activities (EVA) and Human Surface Mobility (HSM) at NASA’s Space Center Johnson in Houston, said ua NASA statement (opens in new tab). “Collecting industry feedback is critical as we move forward in issuing a final request for proposal.”
The unpressurized rover is expected to travel hundreds of miles per year to give Artemis astronauts access to a wide range of sites for search, research and scientific research. It will also be capable of remote control if needed and is expected to be available for commercial use when not in service of NASA operations.
When asked how the new lunar rover would differ from the previous vehicle used during the Apollo missions, NASA public affairs officer Rebecca Wickes of the Johnson Space Center in Houston told Space.com that “unlike the single mission – use the Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), the Artemis LTV will be developed with modern technology that will allow it to span multiple Artemis missions and perform remote controlled exploration between Artemis is manned.”
“The new LTV will go further, last longer and ultimately achieve orders of magnitude more than the Apollo missions,” Wickes continued. “Instead of ‘owning’ a vehicle, NASA will ‘lease’ it as a service from industrial suppliers. This strategy will allow NASA to be one of many customers and foster a healthy space industry for the US economy.”
This strategy should ultimately keep the cost to US taxpayers lower than if NASA were to contract solely LTV, as was the case with lunar rovers used during Apollo missionswhich were abandoned on the surface of the Moon after the missions were completed.
Among the main challenges facing Artemis astronauts is working in the so-called permanently shaded regions lunar surface. The Moon’s axis of rotation is almost perpendicular to the sunso there are craters around the lunar south pole that are deep enough that their bottoms have not seen sunlight for over 2 billion years.
In addition to these lighting conditions, there is also the issue of maintaining an electric vehicle operating in the extreme cold of the south pole of the Moon. This will be a major challenge for the industry hoping to win NASA’s new LTV contract, which NASA plans to contract as a service from private contractors, rather than owning it outright.
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