General Motors and the aerospace firm Lockheed Martin are teaming up to develop a next-generation lunar rover that NASA astronauts could use on future missions to explore the moon, the two companies announced Wednesday.
The planned vehicle is expected to be part of the companies’ efforts to bid on a contract under NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2024.
Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of commercial civil space at Lockheed, said the new rover will be a key part of building infrastructure on the moon to support longer stays, and ambitious science and exploration objectives.
“In order to have a sustained presence on the moon, we’re going to need mobility,” she said Wednesday in a news briefing.
The rover is still in its conceptual stage, but GM officials said it will be an electric vehicle that will also be able to operate autonomously on the lunar surface.
Kirk Shireman, vice president of lunar exploration campaigns at Lockheed, said few details about the rover’s design have been settled, but that the goal is to allow astronauts to venture far away from their landing sites on the moon.
“In order to safely land the first woman and next man on the surface of the moon, you need a relatively flat place and no boulders,” he said. “How do you get the humans from this nice, smooth, flat place with no boulders over to the really scientifically interesting places?”
During NASA’s Apollo program, so-called Lunar Roving Vehicles were used on three missions: Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17. The electric vehicles, built by Boeing but with GM serving as a subcontractor, had a range of less than 4 miles and a top speed of roughly 8 mph.
Shireman said the next-generation rover will allow astronauts to access more of the lunar terrain, opening up the moon for an array of scientific and commercial activities.
NASA may begin accepting proposals for lunar rover designs later this year, but GM and Lockheed officials did not specify a timeline for their program or its projected cost.
NASA’s Artemis program aims to establish a long-term presence on the moon as a stepping stone toward crewed missions to Mars.
Last year, the agency solicited ideas for new lunar rovers and “robotic mobility systems” that would allow astronauts to transport equipment and conduct science experiments across a broad swath of lunar terrain.
“As we return to the moon with Artemis, we’re seeking new and innovative approaches that allow us to operate robotically anywhere on the lunar surface and explore more of our nearest neighbor than ever before,” Steve Clarke, deputy associate administrator for exploration at NASA headquarters, said in a statement at the time.