General Motors says it aims to help NASA bring electric and autonomous vehicles to the moon this decade to allow to zip around the lunar surface.
The legacy car company announced Wednesday that it’s teaming up with longtime NASA contractor Lockheed Martin to develop new moon buggies.
“These next-generation rovers will dramatically extend the range of astronauts as they perform high-priority science investigation on the Moon that will ultimately impact humanity’s understanding of our place in the solar system,” Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space, said in a statement.
Last year, NASA sent out a request for information from industry to help the space agency in developing a lunar terrain vehicle for the Artemis program, which aims to send astronauts back to the surface of the moon for the first time in a half century since the end of the Apollo program.
In August, Mark Kirasich, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for advanced exploration systems, explained on Twitter that the agency’s plans “include a lunar terrain vehicle to transport crew around their landing zone, a habitable mobility platform to allow crews to traverse the Moon for up to 45 days, and a surface habitat that will house as many as four crew members on shorter surface stay.”
No design has been revealed just yet. Jeff Ryder, vice president of growth and strategy for General Motors Defense, told reporters on a Zoom call Wednesday that the companies are waiting on a detailed request for proposals from NASA, expected to drop later this year.
“It’s likely we’ll see more than one vehicle, perhaps.”
Lisa Callahan, Lockheed Martin head of commercial civil space, added that the collaboration is less about responding to NASA’s current needs than it is about anticipating where the Artemis program is heading: “This partnership is about getting ahead of NASA’s future procurements.”
General Motors, which was also involved in developing the rover that the Apollo 15 astronauts drove on the moon in 1971, highlighted its current efforts to advance electric and autonomous vehicle technologies.
“GM will use autonomous technology to facilitate safer and more efficient operations on the Moon,” the companies said in a joint statement. “Autonomous, self-driving systems will allow the rovers to prepare for human landings, provide commercial payload services, and enhance the range and utility of scientific payloads and experiments.”
To imagine what this might actually look like, picture an autonomous rover following an Artemis astronaut along the surface of the moon as she collects samples for scientific study.
The Apollo rovers traveled less than five miles (eight kilometers) on the moon. Any new LTV is going to put in a lot more miles shuttling around the moon’s south pole, which is likely to be darker, colder and more rugged than the sites visited by.
Ryder added that the lessons learned in designing vehicles that can handle temperatures swings of hundreds of degrees and cold nights lasting up to 14 days could also be applied to building better electric vehicles and batteries for use on Earth.
GM and Lockheed Martin held an online press event to announce the new collaboration. You can watch the highlights below:
Follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar.