Most rovers have been built for Mars, and each one of them is a complex machine designed with specific goals and terrains in mind. But the Moon is different than Mars. We’re not searching for life there; we’re trying to establish a presence.
In recognition of the difference, the ESA is developing modular rovers that can serve different needs with only small modifications.
As Artemis II gets ready to launch in November 2024, NASA recently announced it is pursuing contract proposals from private companies for the development of a next-generation Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) to be used for crewed missions starting with Artemis V, which is currently scheduled for 2029. NASA has set a due date for the proposals of July 10, 2023, at 1:30pm Central Time, with the announcement for rewarded contracts to occur in November 2023.
As the Apollo astronauts found out, mobility is everything. Apollo’s Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) – sometimes called the Lunar Rover or Moon Buggy – completely changed how the astronauts could explore the lunar surface.
Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17 said, “Without it, the major scientific discoveries of Apollo 15, 16, and 17 would not have been possible, and our current understanding of lunar evolution would not have been possible.”
A number of missions are destined for the Moon before this decade is over. In addition to the Artemis Program, the European Space Agency (ESA), the China National Space Agency (CNSA), Roscosmos, and other space agencies have some ambitious plans of their own. These include sending robotic missions to characterize the local environment, scout out resources, and pave the way for permanent human outposts.
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) also some very interesting lunar missions in mind. In addition to partnering with NASA on the Artemis Program and helping to create the Lunar Gateway, JAXA has the radical idea to send a transforming rover to the Moon. The data this rover collects will be used to inform the design of a pressurized rover that will allow for a sustained human presence on the Moon.
What happens when you cross one of the world’s largest defense contractors with one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers? Apparently, you get an electrically powered autonomous lunar rover. At least that is the fruit of a new collaboration between Lockheed Martin (LM) and General Motors (GM).
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has a long-standing tradition of innovation and technological development in space. Who can forget the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS), more familiarly known as the “Canadarm“, which was essential to the Space Shuttle program? How about its successor, the Canadarm2, which is a crucial part of the International Space Station and even helped assemble it?
Looking to the future, the CSA intends to play a similar role in humanity’s return to the Moon – which includes the creation of the Lunar Gateway and Project Artemis. To this end, the CSA recently awarded a series of contracts with private businesses and one university to foster the development of technologies that would assist with national and international efforts to explore the Moon.
In the coming years, NASA will be sending astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since the last Apollo mission took place in 1972. Back in May, NASA announced that the plan – which is officially known as Project Artemis – was being expedited and would take place in the next five years. In accordance with the new timeline, Artemis will involve sending the first woman and next man to the Moon’s southern polar region by 2024.
To this end, NASA is working on a lunar rover that will search for and map out water deposits in the Moon’s southern polar region. It’s known as the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) and it is scheduled to be delivered to the lunar surface by 2022. This mission will gather data that will help inform future missions to the South Pole-Aitken Basin and the eventual construction of a base there.
There is no doubt that one of the hallmarks of the modern space age is the way it is becoming increasingly democratic. In addition to more space agencies entering the fray, private aerospace companies are contributing like never before. It is no surprise then that there are innovators and entrepreneurs that want to increase public access and participation in space exploration.
This is what UK startup Spacebit and its founder, Pavlo Tanasyuk, hope to accomplish with their decentralized aerospace company. Central to their vision is the Walking Rover, a four-legged robotic explorer that they plan to deploy to the lunar surface in the coming years. This rover will represent a number of firsts for space exploration, which includes being the first commercial lunar mission sent by the UK.
JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is teaming up with the nation’s largest company to build a lunar rover. Toyota, the second largest automobile company in the world (only Volkswagen makes more cars) has signed a development deal with JAXA that will last three years. The goal? To design, build, test and evaluate prototypes for a pressurized, crewed lunar vehicle that runs on fuel-cells.