NASA has selected three companies that will develop a lunar rover for astronauts.

Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost or Venturi Astrolab will be able to enter into a $4.6 billion contract with NASA. Each contract is for 13 years.

This is an important step for lunar exploration because the last lunar rovers were used on the Moon in the early 1970s. That’s when human missions to the moon ended.

The U.S. government and NASA have decided to resume missions to the moon and exploration of the area using modern lunar rovers, which look more like machines from sci-fi movies.

Why NASA needs a moon rover

With the help of lunar rovers NASA is going to explore the South Pole of the Moon. It is assumed that there is frozen water in the area.Each lunar rover may differ in design, but all three must have room for two astronauts in suits. In addition, the vehicles must be able to operate in extreme temperatures.The lunar rover must have robotic remote control capabilities so NASA can conduct research even when the astronauts are not on the moon.Although NASA has selected three companies, only one will be contracted to manufacture and maintain the vehicle. In the coming year, each of the companies will conduct a feasibility study on the development of a lunar vehicle, after which NASA will study the developments and select the winner.The $4.6 billion contract runs through 2039. This cost includes design, production, delivery of the lunar rover to the Moon and its support for 10 years.

What is known about Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines is a private company that has already received $30 million from NASA to develop a lunar rover. It is likely that this money is intended to finance the first stage.

In February 2024, Intuitive Machines made history as the world’s first private company whose Odyssey spacecraft reached the surface of the moon. It was also the first spacecraft to successfully land on the Moon since the 1972 Apollo 17 mission.

Intuitive Machines will develop the lunar lander in partnership with Boeing and Michelin. Boeing will be responsible for the flight systems that will have to carry the lunar rover to the moon. Michelin will develop wheels capable of withstanding temperatures from 100 °C to -240 °C.

What is known about Lunar Outpost

Lunar Outpost was founded in 2017. The company specializes in the production of robotics to work in extreme conditions on Earth and in space.

General Motors is involved in the development of the lunar rover and will provide the Ultium EV battery architecture as well as the suspension developments. Tires for the lunar rover will be produced by Goodyear.

Lunar Outpost said that its lunar rover will be able to exceed all NASA requirements. For example, it will be able to operate for two-week lunar nights at -173 °C.

What is known about Venturi Astrolab

Venturi Astrolab is the American division of the Monaco-based automaker Venturi. It is a private car company that specializes in the production of electric cars, including sports cars. In particular, Venturi was the first company to take part in the Formula E world championship.

Since 2022, the company has been actively developing lunar rovers and other spacecraft. Its main invention is the Flex rover, which Venturi Astrolab is going to send to the Moon in 2026 on a SpaceX rocket.

Flex meets all NASA requirements, so the company will not develop a special lunar rover for the space agency.

When a rover ends up on the moon

The lunar rover is being prepared for the Artemis-5 mission, which is scheduled for 2028-2029. It should arrive separately and wait for the astronauts. Therefore, NASA has less than 5 years to build the lunar rover and send it to the moon.

The Artemis program was launched in 2017. Its main goal is to explore the moon and land humans on the satellite.

The Artemis-1 mission successfully completed a test unmanned flight to the Moon in 2022. The Artemis-2 crew will make a manned orbit of the Moon in 2025, and the Artemis-3 mission astronauts will be the first humans to visit the Moon since 1972. The Artemis-3 mission is scheduled for 2026.