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NASA selects 3 teams to design next-generation lunar rover

NASA has offered three space companies the chance to design the next generation lunar rover, but only one design will make it to space. Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost and Venturi Astrolab are developing rugged vehicles for astronauts to drive on the lunar surface, which could be selected by NASA as early as next year.

The three teams will now enter a 12-month “feasibility phase” that will culminate with a preliminary design review. NASA officials explained at a news conference on Wednesday that a follow-up competitive solicitation will be conducted in which three companies will compete for the demonstration task order.

At that time, the final winner will be selected. The selected company will not only be responsible for the design of the LTV, but will also be responsible for launching and landing it on the Moon ahead of the Artemis V mission, which is currently expected to take place no earlier than 2029.

Although Intuitive Machines said in a statement that it was awarded a contract worth $30 million, NASA declined to disclose the exact amount of those contracts. The total potential value of all task orders over the next 13 years is $4.6 billion.

The three teams also keep specifications such as range or battery technology closely guarded secrets, although NASA specifies that the rover must have an incredible 10-year lifespan and be able to carry two suitable astronauts.

Intuitive Machines leads a team that includes AVL, Boeing, Michelin and Northrop Grumman; Lunar Outpost leads a Lunar Dawn team that includes Lockheed Martin, General Motors, Goodyear and MDA Space; Axiom Space and Odyssey Space Research also joined Astrolab.

NASA Lunar Terrain Rover

NASA Lunar Terrain Rover

The awards are the latest to be awarded to private companies under the agency’s ambitious Artemis program, which aims to eventually establish a permanent human presence on the moon. But to actually explore the lunar surface, astronauts need something to move around and something that can withstand the harsh environment of the moon’s south pole, known for extreme temperature swings and long nights.

“Think of it as a hybrid of an Apollo-style lunar rover piloted by our astronauts and an unmanned mobile science platform,” said Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

With these vehicles, astronauts will be able to transport scientific equipment, collect samples from the surface and travel further than they can on foot, said Jacob Bleacher, NASA’s chief exploration scientist. Humans will be able to remotely operate the LTV when astronauts are not on the moon, so it can continue to explore the area and even meet new astronauts as they arrive on the lunar surface.

“Through NASA’s Artemis program, we are building the capabilities needed for long-term exploration and presence on the Moon,” he said. “Where it’s going, there’s no road. Its maneuverability will fundamentally change our view of the moon.”

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