NASA has requested ideas for the development of lunar rovers from a broad spectrum of industry partners. The request is part of the agency’s preparations to return human beings to the surface of the Moon before the end of the decade.
The first request seeks concepts for robotic mobility systems to transport cargo and scientific instruments across the lunar surface. This will enable NASA to prepare locations for crewed missions to the surface.
The second request asks for approaches to develop unpressurised human-rated rovers that will enable astronauts to cover a wider area than would be possible on foot. This approach is not new. During Apollo 11 to 15, astronauts were able to cover less than 1 kilometre. With the introduction of the lunar rover for Apollo 15 to 17, astronauts extended their range to almost 25 kilometres.
NASA hopes that in addition to offering viable options for lunar rovers, the two requests will act as a catalyst for the development of next-generation technology that can be utilised here on Earth.
“We also want to hear from industry leaders in all-terrain vehicles, electric vehicles, and more—this is not exclusive to the space industry,” notes Smith. “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.”
The push to develop mobility solutions for the lunar surface is NASA’s most recent step to extend the capabilities of the agency’s Artemis program. The program hopes to launch the first woman and the next man to the Moon by no later than 2024, although a new proposal may see that deadline extended to 2028. If successful, it will be the first time a human being has set foot on the surface of the Moon since Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in 1972.