NASA has selected 3 teams to design the next generation Moon Buggy

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NASA has given three space companies the chance to design a next-generation moon buggy — but only one design will go into space. Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost and Venturi Astrolabe are developing rugged vehicles for astronauts to roam the lunar surface, which NASA could choose from as early as next year.

Three teams will now enter a 12-month “feasibility phase” that will culminate in a preliminary design review. At that point, there will be a subsequent competitive request for proposals, where all three companies will compete for demonstration work orders, NASA officials explained during a press conference Wednesday.

At that time, the final award will be selected. The selected company will be responsible not only for designing the Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV), but also for launching and landing it on the Moon before the Artemis V mission, which is currently no earlier than 2029.

NASA declined to specify the dollar value of the awards, although Intuitive Machines said in a statement that it was awarded a $30 million contract. The total potential value of all task orders over the next 13 years is $4.6 billion.

All three teams are also keeping specifics such as range or battery technology close to the chest, although NASA has specified that the rover should have an incredible 10-year lifespan and be able to carry two suitable astronauts.

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

NASA Lunar Terrain Vehicle. Image Credits: Intuitive Machines

The awards are the latest to be awarded to private industry under the agency’s ambitious Artemis program, which seeks to eventually establish a permanent human presence on the Moon. But to truly explore the surface, astronauts will need something to move around—and it will need to withstand the harsh environment of the lunar south pole, known for extreme temperature swings and very long nights.

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

With the vehicles, astronauts will be able to transport scientific instruments, collect samples from the surface and travel farther than on foot, said Jacob Bleicher, NASA’s chief exploration scientist. When astronauts are not on the Moon, humans will be able to operate the LTV remotely, so that it can continue to explore the region and even meet the new astronaut crew when they surface.

“With NASA’s Artemis mission, we are building the capabilities necessary for long-term exploration and establishing a lunar presence,” he said. “Wherever he goes, there are no roads. Its dynamics will fundamentally change our view of the Moon.

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