Home » NASA Picks Three Companies To Develop All-New Lunar Rovers And The Renders Look Pretty Cool

NASA Picks Three Companies To Develop All-New Lunar Rovers And The Renders Look Pretty Cool

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We’re going back to the moon. I’m not exactly sure when, but there are plenty of smart nerds at NASA figuring it all out; the Space Launch System (SLS) has already been launched successfully, and that launch also sent the new Orion crew capsule (sans crew) around the moon.

Before you know it, there will be a bunch of new men and women stomping around in the dusty one-sixth gravity of the moon. But are we content with making those astronauts walk everywhere, like a pack of chumps? No. Hell no. They’re going to want to drive, because of course they are, so they’re going to need cars. Moon cars. Rovers, of the lunar variety. Yesterday, NASA announced the three companies that were selected to “advance moon mobility for Artemis missions” which I guess is government contractor-talk for “making a moon car.”

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Three companies have been selected by NASA for developing what is being called the Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV): Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost, and Venturi Astrolab. Each company seems to have very different approaches to the LTV problem, which could be why these three companies have been selected – to get the broadest depth of possible solutions. The maximum potential value of these contracts is $4.6 billion dollars, so there’s a lot at stake here. The contracts are indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts, which I had to look up, and seem to mean that there could be any number of units ordered within a set minimum and maximum.

Oldrover

Of course, we do still have three Lunar Roving Vehicles still parked on the moon, keys still in them, taken there by Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17. But the newest of those has been sitting there since 1972, un-garaged, and it’s probably just easier to develop a new one than pay off all the lunar parking tickets those things have no doubt accrued over the 50-something years since last driven. I know they “ran when parked” but I’m pretty sure the silver-oxide batteries they used are all very dead by now.

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One interesting thing about the requirements for the new rover is that it should be able to function independently between crewed missions. According to Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston:

“We look forward to the development of the Artemis generation lunar exploration vehicle to help us advance what we learn at the Moon. 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.”

The part about functioning as a “science platform” is interesting, and I suspect implies some sort of autonomous operation, like the rovers sent to Mars, for example.

Would you like to see the whole news conference NASA had about the LTV? Sure you would!

Let’s look at the three approaches to lunar rovers. Up first, Intuitive Machine’s proposal, which has the evocative name Moon Reusable Autonomous Crewed Exploration Rover (MRACER):

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Racer

Now, I suspect a lot of the bad-ass look of this thing comes from it being a render, and anything goes in a render – but it does look pretty cool. It’s got some big tweels, which seem to be developed by Michelin, and a pretty low-slung body with what may be some sort of high cargo platform at the rear? There are no technical details to speak of yet, so this is all we have to go on. It looks cool, and that’s half the battle, right?

Lunardawn

Lunar Outpost’s entry is called Lunar Dawn, and uses what we terrestrial gearheads would call a cab-over or cab-forward design. Lockheed-Martin is calling it a “flight deck forward” design, even though this thing isn’t supposed to be flying.

This is from an article about the Lunar Dawn, and I just want to note something (emphasis mine):

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NASA has awarded a Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services (LTVS) contract to the Lunar Dawn team, led by Lunar Outpost as the prime contractor along with its principal partner Lockheed Martin and teammates General Motors (GM), The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, and MDA Space. The diverse team combines proven robotic and human space exploration heritage, cutting edge technology and automotive industry strengths to create a true off-road vehicle for living and working on the Moon’s surface.

Do we really need to note “off-road” when we’re talking about the Moon? we know for a fact the Moon has approximately zero miles of roads. It’s all off-road! The nearest roads are 238,900 miles away!

The Lunar Dawn design has a large, re-configurable load bed with a robotic arm to help load and unload cargo or geological samples or alien carcasses or whatever. It’s also a cool-looking render.

From what I can tell, the FLEX rover from Astrolab seems to be the only one to have made it to the prototype hardware stage. That’s the prototype in the video above, which shows it in robotic mode. For carrying astronauts, it would be configured like this:

Flex Diag

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The astronauts would drive it while standing on a platform at the rear, freeing FLEX to carry cargo underslung in the middle and making for a pretty lean vehicle when empty. None of the three companies’ rover concepts are pressurized, relying instead on the astronauts’ spacesuits for life support, but the FLEX design appears to be the most minimal in terms of cabin space and astronaut protection.

Still, it seems an effective idea; you can see a little CG movie of the FLEX rover in action above, including a part that shows my biggest problem with the SpaceX Starship-based lunar lander: that long drop from the door to the surface.

Starshiphatch

That’s a long way to lower a rover. NASA seems okay with it, so who am I to judge, I suppose.

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FLEX is scheduled to go to the moon in 2026 as part of SpaceX’s Starship landing tests, so hopefully that’ll happen on schedule and we’ll get to see how the rover does.

These are all interesting approaches to the driving-on-the-moon problem, and I’m curious to see more as they develop. When astronauts finally do land on the Moon again, a feat currently set for the Artemis V mission, I hope they’re able to find the old rovers and get them together for a vintage car show! They’ll just need spacesuit-wearing versions of those creepy time-out kid dolls to really sell it as a car show with cars that Boomers remember fondly.

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Hoonicus
Hoonicus
2 months ago

Just hold your horses there buggy boys! We are far from ready to be receiving guests! Due to unforgivable neglect, the robotic workforce is severely behind schedule, and has only begun mapping promising lava tubes. Ultimately we will have robotic sand worms excreting titanium I beams to frame up accommodations, rail gun re-orbital launch tubes, lunar-thermal heating, subterranean ice harvesting for water and fuel. I for one will not be traveling 1/4 million miles without proper digs, and a drink waiting for me.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
2 months ago

I want to see them use the vintage ones in a demo derby, after they say “I know what I got” along w/ your “Ran when parked”

BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
2 months ago

I won’t be satisfied until my inflatable vehicle tech is adapted for a moon rover. I will not rest. At least I won’t anywhere else but my overinflated back seat.

Ea Gregory
Ea Gregory
2 months ago

I just looked at the “List of artificial objects on the moon” and holy cow, is there a huge mess of objects up there. From the soviets in 1959 to the Japanese-launched SLIM. 458,321 lbs. of stuff!

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
2 months ago
Reply to  Ea Gregory

We need a new category for the Lunar X prize. Awarded to the team with the most comprehensive plan to utilize the maximum amount of lunar detritus in constructing a habitat.

Ea Gregory
Ea Gregory
2 months ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

Love the idea – it would be pretty cool to assemble a mighty mecha. Have it be solar powered….

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
2 months ago

Nothing seems to land on the moon right side up anymore, so why not just use Jeeps?

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
2 months ago

Just a thought, but why not just take a couple of new batteries to the moon, and fix up the rovers already there? Given DT’s newfound enthusiasm for EVs and wrenching experience, I’m pretty sure he could get those things up and running in no time.

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
2 months ago

Whatever it is, the first two have no chance of seeing reality looking like they do. First rule of space travel, every ounce matters. If no purpose, then it isn’t needed. Doubt we will see anything resembling body-cladding of a normal car. The third one might actually be close though….

Elanosaurous
Elanosaurous
2 months ago
Reply to  sentinelTk

If it helps keep regolith dust off the space suits, it will be worth it. Super abrasive and difficult to clean off, based on Apollo experience. That’s OK if you’re just there for a couple of days, but a real problem if you’re trying to stay for weeks/months.
Also, note that NASA hasn’t specified how the rovers should get to the moon. It’s not likely they will be riding along with the crew, as was the case with Apollo. NASA is just paying for service of a rover for 10 years. It’s up to the contract winner to figure out how to get it there, and whether it will require one or multiple rovers to last 10 years to satisfy the deal.

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
2 months ago
Reply to  Elanosaurous

Fair points. Hadn’t thought of an equipment drop preceding the manned mission….

Box Rocket
Box Rocket
2 months ago

So what’s wrong with the 6-wheeled vehicle that James May drove years ago?

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
2 months ago

The render of the FLEX with the astronauts standing in it looks like it’s ready for the Daft Punk reunion tour.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
2 months ago

Looks like the FLEX is already bagged & stanced, but where are the +5hp stickers?

Ostronomer
Ostronomer
2 months ago

Two of these are clearly trucks, not rovers.

Makes me wonder which Earth-bound vehicles are rovers

Captain Zoll
Captain Zoll
2 months ago
Reply to  Ostronomer

if we sent a Rover 216i to the moon, at least there would be no oxygen to rust it!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Captain Zoll

Lots of cosmic rays to pound it into dust though…eventually.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
2 months ago
Reply to  Captain Zoll

Perhaps it’s wise to pre-package some bottle smoke from vintage Lucas electrics.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
2 months ago

“It’s all off-road! The nearest roads are 238,900 miles away!”

Haha! I’ve got a Ranger “Off Road” (pre FX4 (doesn’t have the FX4 graphic just the Off Road graphic (trim levels confuse me))) sitting in my driveway that’s got plenty more miles than that on it.

Its a great moment when your vehicles odometer clicks past that particular number.
It gives us non space traveling types a slight sense of interplanetary scale.
It hits especially hard if this happens on a clear night.

238,900.1 Haha!
(looks up at the moon)
Damn man, damn.
What a great truck!

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
2 months ago

That FLEX is probably the most logical choice. Looks like it could start working on building Moon Base Alpha before people arrive.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
2 months ago

Plus once astronauts get there, they can ride it like a chariot! Robo-chariots are not something I expected to be part of lunar travel but I am here for it.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
2 months ago

Good thing Boeing isn’t on the list, NASA would be taking delivery of the first partially-functional prototype approximately 48 months after the astronauts already returned to Earth.

Gee See
Gee See
2 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Boeing is on Intuitive Machine’s team.. at least there are no doors and hopefully they are not in charge of structural bolts. Would be embarrassing if they left those on the factory floor on earth.

Last edited 2 months ago by Gee See
Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
2 months ago
Reply to  Gee See

Ah, well, that’s the one to bet against then, we’re not seeing that thing functional and delivered before roughly Q2 of 2050.

Space
Space
2 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

I have bad news, Boeing also is a partner in the SLS. With bad luck the rocket won’t make it.

Gee See
Gee See
2 months ago
Reply to  Space

Naah it will be late because they wrapped crucial wire harnesses with flamable tape, so they have to pay OT to redo it.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago

Better Idea: Send Freiburger and Finnigan to space, outfitted with new lithium batteries, solar panels, and offroad wheels. Land them on the moon, film the ultimate episode of Roadkill, where the retrofit out a ‘barnfind’ lunar rover, with way more power than it was designed for, and outfit it with prerunner suspension. Doing some jumps in low gravity would be so epic.

10001010
10001010
2 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

YES! But put it on YouTube and not MTOD!

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
2 months ago
Reply to  10001010

Motor Trend On Demand The Moon

Alec Rosenbaum
Alec Rosenbaum
2 months ago
Reply to  Austin Vail

BEST. IDEA. EVER.

Gee See
Gee See
2 months ago

We all know Elon would probably toss a Cybertruck on to moon just for lols before then…

Personally I am waiting for the M577 from Aliens 2 to roam on the Moon.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 months ago

I know those original Rovers would likely require an extensive restomod, but just imagine the patina!

That FLEX thingy looks like my mom’s laundry hamper with turf tires added.

You just know if a SpaceX rocket is used to transport the MRacer, Moon Musk is going to want to rename it RacerX.

Lunar Dawn? Seriously? That sounds like the title of a bad Patrick Swayze movie or maybe a stripper from George Jetson’s favorite gentlemen’s club. And it’s fugly.

Really, just send up a Wrangler EV.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
2 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

That FLEX thingy looks like my mom’s laundry hamper with turf tires added.

Personally, I’m seeing a lunar Zamboni, myself…

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

Can’t argue with that.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

“maybe a stripper from George Jetson’s favorite gentlemen’s club”

Is THAT how he met Judy? I always though she was out of his league. But such is the magic of TV.

10001010
10001010
2 months ago

“Hi I’m David Tracy and I’ve got 3 days to get this Apollo 17 Lunar Roving Vehicle running and then drive it from the Taurus-Littrow lunar valley to Novo-Luno-Moab in time for the Lunar Jeep Safari weekend sponsored by the Artemis V mission!”

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  10001010

Send Jason too…with his chainsaw.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
2 months ago

Let’s save a billion+ and get a small elite team to develop every conceivable replacement component for the three rovers already there.

Ea Gregory
Ea Gregory
2 months ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

That’s exactly what I was about to post. Unless we have no plans to go near the previous sites, all they need is likely a new battery and instruments.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
2 months ago
Reply to  Ea Gregory

Also have a hard time understanding why we are planning to control de-orbit the ISS rather than planning to upgrade/reuse most, or all of the materials that are outrageously expensive to get up there. Possibly add enough engine and fuel to make it to a lunar orbit.

Gee See
Gee See
2 months ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

Things in space age a lot quicker than on earth. Besides ISS will probably get taken apart like a house in a bitter divorce with a chainsaw.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
2 months ago
Reply to  Gee See

Good point, but I’d rather have a patched lifeboat, than no lifeboat.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
2 months ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

The ISS isn’t at all designed to take the stresses involved in moving it: it’s a bunch of modules connected together. There’s a LOT of energy to be applied to get it from where it is to lunar orbit.

-I get what you’re saying, but it doesn’t seem possible to me (not an engineer, much less NASA type, though)

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

So take it apart and move it piece by piece, like it was designed to be moved.

Phuzz
Phuzz
2 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

It can be moved slowly, and it currently receives periodic re-boosts as it’s orbit decays. It’ll have to be moved to de-orbit it safely.
On the other hand, it would need about 2-3 times more deltaV (‘oomph’) to push it into a high ‘graveyard’ orbit where it could be left. That could be done be done slowly by boosting it to higher and higher orbits, by successive pusher spacecraft, but would cost more.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
2 months ago
Reply to  Phuzz

I’m still hoping we have been secretively sending ever more capable robots over the last forty years to explore, and reinforce lunar lava tubes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_lava_tube

Last edited 2 months ago by Hoonicus
Gee See
Gee See
2 months ago
Reply to  Ea Gregory

I think they are aiming for the south. Also just on the safe side, better to send something working, rather than sending parts to fix something that is in a unknown state. I mean it is not like there is a NAPA on the moon that you can pop in for parts, with all the extra parts to de risk, you mind as well send something new.

Since the moon is low gravity, I wonder why they don’t send robotic horses / dogs which leap in low gravity vs cars with wheels which doesn’t take advantage of that.

Toecutter
Toecutter
2 months ago
Reply to  Gee See

There’s no wind resistance on the mon, so leaping vehicles make a lot of sense from an efficiency standpoint. The issue would be controlling and landing them. With a lack of wind resistance, ailerons would not work. You’d need gas thrusters, and the gas would be non-replenishable in the field due to lack of atmosphere.

Marlin May
Marlin May
2 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Gyros for attitude control. No, not the meat, though gyros do put me into a good mood.

Phuzz
Phuzz
2 months ago
Reply to  Marlin May

If you had a separate motor for each wheel, you could use the wheels as gyros, in one axis at least.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
2 months ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

Elite team?!? Nah, just send David, Lewin, and some remanufactured Nissan Leaf batteries.

Gee See
Gee See
2 months ago

BMW i3 batteries

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
2 months ago

Add Stephen Walter Gossin to the cast and cue up Aerosmith‘s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” and we’ve got a potential blockbuster movie here.

Last edited 2 months ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Gee See
Gee See
2 months ago

“American components, Russian components, all made in Taiwan!” Still hold true at least for silicon.

The rovers need gun rack and pipe wrench to make the part though, perhaps a hitch with trucknutz.

Last edited 2 months ago by Gee See
Sklooner
Sklooner
2 months ago

Not enough cupholders for me

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
2 months ago

Eh. The new ones have gained way too much weight. Yeah they’re more powerful and luxurious, but they’ve lost their way. Mark my words: the originals are gonna keep appreciating while these are forgotten quickly

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 months ago

Are we talking lunar rovers or pickup trucks?

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
2 months ago

Yeah, but the new ones will be safer and have touch screens, therefore all other shortcomings should be ignored

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
2 months ago

MRACER? Did some of the engineers grow up watching Speed Racer with Gō Mifune’s Mach 5 racecar with the M on the hood? Would be pretty apt if 100 years from now a future Speed Racer reboot included the MRACER among the convoy of historical cars during the end credits.
“I hope they’re able to find the old rovers and get them together for a vintage car show!”
Yeah, that’d certainly be something, all right. There might be some legal issues, though, as apparently NASA doesn’t consider the rovers to be abandoned and there are aspects of international law and space law involved that are still being worked out, as per the book A City on Mars by Kelly Weinersmith and Zach Weinersmith (highly recommended and surprisingly readable for lay audiences despite the somewhat hefty legal sections; it takes an objective and well-researched look at space exploration and settlement while being entertaining) https://www.acityonmars.com/
and per some comments online such as in this post https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/2095/can-i-borrow-a-lunar-rover.
“They’ll just need spacesuit-wearing versions of those creepy time-out kid dolls to really sell it as a car show with cars that Boomers remember fondly.”
Ha, yeah, they could just use the cosmonauts found by the Apollo 18 astronauts for even greater creepiness.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_18_(film)

Electrified05ViggenFeverDream
Electrified05ViggenFeverDream
2 months ago

A City on Mars is fantastic! Their recent paper “To Each According to Their Space-Need: Communes in Outer Space!” was a great read as well.

Accessible here if folks are interested: https://ranabr.people.stanford.edu/sites/g/files/sbiybj26066/files/media/file/space-policy_0.pdf

Bleeder
Bleeder
2 months ago

The webcomic SMBC by Zach W is dope!

Jdoubledub
Jdoubledub
2 months ago

Now we need a speculative article on how they are going to poop in those.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 months ago
Reply to  Jdoubledub

I believe they call it jettisoning ballast.

Chronometric
Chronometric
2 months ago

If you are interested in the design of the original rover, I recommend this read.
Across the Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings https://a.co/d/fqCEuiW

Elanosaurous
Elanosaurous
2 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

That’s a great book! Highly readable and not at all dry.
Same author also has an excellent book on the building of the US Interstate system – also suprisngly un-dry.

Slower Louder
Slower Louder
2 months ago

Will they baby? Haul a 4×8?

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