Lockheed Martin and General Motors are teaming up to create their vision of a modern Lunar rover for the Artemis program. The companies announced Wednesday that they would be leveraging the technologies and experience of both partners to design a new rover that will enhance the ability of Artemis astronauts to explore large swaths of the Lunar surface. This move is expected to be a bid for a future contract that will be part of NASA’s return to the Moon.
Lisa Callahan, vice-president and general manager of commercial civil space at Lockheed talked about the importance of a new rover to NASA’s mission of a permanent return to the Moon. In Wednesdays announcement video she stated that “to have a sustained presence we need mobility”.
Kirk Shireman, vice president of lunar exploration campaigns at Lockheed went on to point out that the best and safest landing spots, consisting of large flat spaces with no boulders will probably not be the most interesting locations for science and the discovery of resources such as water ice. These would likely be located in rougher terrain or at the bottom of craters. To travel the distances necessary to access these sites, a rover would be the only option.
If you’re wondering what a motor vehicle company is doing building buggies for space you’re probably not alone, however General Motors did a great job of covering what they bring to the table. To start with, this isn’t GM’s first foray into the world of Aerospace. They built the inertial guidance and navigations systems for the Apollo program and assisted in the creation of the Lunar rover for the Apollo 15 mission.
On top of that, GM has been developing its battery technology to implement in road going vehicles. That same technology will contribute greatly to the creation of an electric rover. Their work on automated vehicle technology could also prove crucial to the safety of the astronauts as well as cut down on their workload. Automation could help minimize the risk of a crash on a Lunar drive. Rough surfaces and strange lighting that could hide dangers could put an astronaut driving a rover in a very dangerous situation and as was stated in the video, an ambulance is a long ways away on the surface of the Moon. The fully automated rovers could also follow astronauts moving on foot, carrying equipment and harvested samples.
The illustration released for the announcement also gives us an idea on the duos plan for what may be more that one type of rover. The illustration seems to depict a smaller personal mobility rover for short term exploration, similar to the rovers of the Apollo era. Next to it however is a much larger rover with what appears to be a pressurized compartment and possibly a trailer. This rover could be utilized for an extended surface exploration mission, allowing the astronauts to work for days separated from a Lunar base.
This last part is purely speculation but as the project moves beyond very early concept, I am excited to see what this partnership dreams up. This announcement, while not the awarding of a contract, is exciting in that it is showing us continued commitment to the return of humanity and the United States to the Moon.