In a joint statement on May 26, Lockheed Martin Corp. and General Motors Co. announced they would be working together to develop a new generation of Moon-ready vehicles as part of NASA’s Artemis program.
According to NASA, its next trek to the Moon will involve robotic rovers that will prepare for human landings and enhance the range of scientific experiments as well as Lunar Transport Vehicles (LTVs) capable of carrying astronauts.
Lockheed Martin will lead the team, the companies say, while GM will leverage its battery-electric technology and its history in lunar-vehicle development: The Detroit, Michigan-based automaker helped develop the chassis and wheels for the rover used in Apollo’s 15-17 missions.
“General Motors made history by applying advanced technologies and engineering to support the Lunar Rover Vehicle that the Apollo 15 astronauts drove on the Moon,” said Alan Wexler, a senior VP at GM.
“Working together with Lockheed Martin and their deep-space exploration expertise, we plan to support American astronauts on the Moon once again.”
Rick Ambrose, executive VP at Lockheed Martin Space, said the team-up would tap innovation from both companies and emphasized the importance of vehicles to lunar exploration. “Surface mobility is critical to enable and sustain long-term exploration of the lunar surface,” said Ambrose.
NASA’s director for human lunar exploration programs, Marshall Smith, noted that the astronauts on the Apollo 11 missions were only able to cover about half a mile of ground on foot, compared to about 15 miles during missions 15 through 17 when they were equipped with an LTV with a range of roughly 5 miles.
GM says its next-generation LTVs will be designed to traverse “significantly farther distances.”
“We want our rovers on the Moon to draw on, and spur, innovations in electric vehicle energy storage and management, autonomous driving, and extreme environment resistance,” said Smith, in the space agency’s original call for industry input.
Smith also said that landing unmanned rovers on the Moon before human astronauts arrive would increase the potential for scientific return “exponentially.”
The new generation of lunar rovers, manned and unmanned, will have to deal with the dark, rugged terrain of the Moon’s unexplored-by-humans south pole.
NASA’s Artemis program plans to send its first mobile robot to the Moon in 2023 to search for ice and map the surface and has already tapped SpaceX to build its next manned lunar lander.