NASA seeks industry help for new lunar rovers

NASA is on a mission to return to the moon by 2024 and this time set up a permanent base there as part of the multinational Artemis program, whose aim is to lay the foundation for private companies to establish a workable lunar economy. The program requires all sorts of vehicles, including new lunar rovers.

NASA last week put the request out for companies to come up with ideas of how best to traverse the moon's surface, using both robotic and manned vehicles. Initially, NASA will require vehicles to transport instruments and conduct experiments. Later, commercial applications could be explored.

One of the specific vehicles NASA requires is a manned vehicle, albeit a simpler unenclosed design. An astronaut walking in a spacesuit can only travel about a half a mile at a time on foot, according to NASA, so a lunar vehicle to ride in will be a must.

Steve Clarke, deputy associate administrator for exploration at NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said developing a new lunar rover isn't only about how to traverse rough terrain. There's also areas such as electric energy storage and management, self-driving capability, and surviving in extreme environments that also need to be looked at.

Two automakers have previously presented lunar rover concepts. Audi developed one in 2015 as part of a Google’s X Prize program and Toyota developed one in 2019 as part of a program run by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

If the Artemis program is successful, with the new knowledge and experience gained, NASA will then set its sights on getting humans to Mars. The agency is looking at a timeframe of the mid-2030s for landing a human on the red planet.