Next-Generation Lunar Rover Development: NASA Seeks Industry Proposals for Artemis Missions

NASA Invites Industry Proposals for Next-Generation Lunar Rover

With the upcoming launch of Artemis II in November 2024, NASA has recently announced its intention to seek contract proposals from private companies for the development of an advanced Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) for crewed missions starting from Artemis V, scheduled for 2029. The deadline for proposal submissions is set for July 10, 2023, at 1:30pm Central Time, and the contracts are expected to be awarded in November 2023.

In a statement, Lara Kearney, the manager of NASA's Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility program at Johnson Space Center, expressed the agency's aim to combine industry expertise and innovation with NASA's successful rover operations history to create the most effective surface rover for astronauts and scientific researchers.

The envisioned LTV is intended to be a hybrid rover capable of both crewed and uncrewed operations, facilitating continuous scientific exploration on the lunar surface. For crewed missions, the LTV will enable astronauts to explore the lunar terrain and transport equipment over greater distances than traditional moonwalks allow. In uncrewed mode, the LTV will operate remotely for scientific and transportation purposes, similar to NASA's Curiosity and Perseverance rovers currently deployed on Mars.

Given that the Artemis missions will focus on the Moon's south pole, where areas experience extreme temperature variations due to alternating periods of constant sunlight and darkness, the LTV will require advanced systems. These include enhanced environmental shielding, semi-autonomous driving capabilities, and advanced power management, communication, and navigation systems.

NASA's proposal requirements are comprehensive, seeking detailed information from companies regarding LTV development, lunar surface operations, seating capacity for two crew members, scientific payloads (such as a robotic arm), and strategies for surviving extreme temperature changes at the lunar south pole.

Why choose the lunar south pole? The decision is primarily based on the presence of permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) in craters, where sunlight never reaches. Scientists believe these areas have remained devoid of sunlight for billions of years. Although liquid water cannot exist on the Moon's surface due to the lack of atmosphere, PSRs have been found to contain deposits of water ice accumulated over time. Utilizing these resources eliminates the need for constant resupply from Earth during the Artemis missions.

Building upon the legacy of the lunar roving vehicle (LRV) used during Apollo 15, 16, and 17, the LTV will be a significantly enhanced version. While the LRV allowed for greater scientific exploration and carried two astronauts, it could only be operated by crews, as remote rover operations were not yet feasible. Additionally, the LRV operated exclusively in permanent sunlight, as all Apollo missions were conducted during lunar days. In contrast, the LTV will face extreme temperature changes at the lunar south pole. The LTV is expected to surpass the distances covered by the LRV during its missions of 27.76 km (17.25 mi), 26.55 km (16.50 mi), and 35.89 km (22.30 mi) for Apollo 15, 16, and 17, respectively.

The LTV will also be more robust. During Apollo 17, one of the LRV's fender extensions was lost when Commander Gene Cernan accidentally caught his hammer on it, ripping it off. The fender was essential for preventing lunar dust from reaching the vehicle's instruments. Without it, the rover would kick up large amounts of lunar dust, making it nearly impossible to operate due to the dust's heat-absorbing properties and the potential damage caused by increased temperatures. Theastronauts resorted to using duct tape and a laminated map as a makeshift fender to continue their rover operations.

Since, the LTV is not scheduled for use until Artemis V in 2029, the selected company will have several years to prepare before deployment on the Moon. In the meantime, Artemis II is planned for a 10-day orbital mission around the Moon in November 2024, followed by Artemis III in 2025 and Artemis IV in 2028.

The extent to which the LTV will enhance operations for the Artemis missions in the coming years and decades remains to be seen. Only time will reveal the advancements and discoveries that will arise from these scientific endeavors.

In conclusion, the development of the next-generation Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) through NASA's collaboration with private companies holds great potential for advancing scientific exploration on the lunar surface. As the Artemis missions progress, the LTV's capabilities will contribute to a better understanding of the Moon and its resources, opening doors to future space exploration endeavors.

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