NASA Chooses Three Commercial Providers for Lunar Terrain Vehicles

NASA has chosen commercial teams led by Intuitive Machines (Houston), Lunar Outpost (Golden, Colorado), and Venturi Astrolab (Hawthorne, California) to develop designs for Lunar Terrain Vehicles (LTVs) for the Artemis moon missions. These LTVs, which are not pressurized, are seen as advancements over the lunar rovers that were used during the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions, and could significantly enhance the astronauts’ ability to explore and conduct scientific work on the moon.

The contracts for the Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services have a potential value of $4.6 billion over 15 years. After a 12-month feasibility assessment, NASA expects to select one of the three LTV designs for a year-long mission to the lunar south pole, possibly before the launch of Artemis V – the third Artemis mission expected to land astronauts on the moon around 2030.

NASA aims to issue more task orders in the future to meet its unpressurized rover requirements for scientific exploration through 2039. This initiative is part of NASA’s strategy to shift its human space exploration focus from low Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars, in collaboration with commercial and international partners.

Previously, NASA had selected Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace in 2022 to develop new spacesuits for lunar surface and ISS operations through 2034, at an estimated cost of $3.5 billion. As part of the Artemis program, NASA is planning to establish a base camp at the lunar south pole, a challenging environment that possesses potential resources such as subsurface water ice. The LTVs and other equipment must be engineered to function in this harsh environment, with temperatures dropping below -267F, limited sunlight for solar panels, and rugged terrain.

NASA plans to use the LTVs for both autonomous and astronaut-driven excursions, covering several hundred miles annually for scientific discovery, resource prospecting, and exploration. The LTVs could also be used for commercially sponsored lunar activities when not in use by NASA. The current plan is to return astronauts to the Moon’s surface around September 2026.

NASA’s budget proposal for 2025 includes $434.2 million for the xEVA and Human Surface Mobility Program, which covers the development of LTVs and spacesuits, expected to increase to $673.6 million annually by 2028. NASA has also partnered with SpaceX and Blue Origin for Human Landing Systems for astronaut transportation between lunar orbit and the Moon’s surface, and has qualified 14 companies for the delivery of science and technology payloads to the Moon under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.

Notably, Intuitive Machines, one of the 14 CLPS providers, became the first commercial company to achieve a soft landing on the Moon earlier this year. NASA is also collaborating with Blue Origin, Voyager Space, and Axiom Space to develop commercial space stations as the agency’s leadership of the International Space Station (ISS) operations, authorized by Congress until 2030, comes to an end.

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