Companies build up teams to compete for Artemis lunar rover

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COLORADO SPRINGS — Companies are adding to or creating new teams in anticipation of a NASA competition for a lunar rover to support later Artemis missions to the moon.

Lockheed Martin announced April 4 that it was adding Canadian company MDA to its partnership with General Motors to develop a rover. MDA, which developed robotic arms for the shuttle and International Space Station, will provide a robotic arm for the Lockheed-GM rover.

“It’s built on the decades of experience that we have on Canadarm,” said Holly Johnson, vice president of robotic and space operation at MDA, during a presentation about the partnership April 4 during the 37th Space Symposium. “We will be using the same software and control systems and operational lessons learned that we gained over the decades, but it will look a little bit different.”

The arm will support operations both when the rover is being used by astronauts on Artemis missions and when the rover is being remotely operated from the Earth. “What we want to do is fully utilize this vehicle with autonomous capability for the other 50, 51 weeks of the year,” said Kirk Shireman, vice president of lunar exploration campaigns at Lockheed Martin. One example he gave was to drive the rover into permanently shadowed regions of craters, using the robotic arm to collect samples for analysis.

Lockheed announced its partnership with GM last May to develop a lunar rover for Artemis missions in anticipation of a future NASA solicitation. In November, Northrop Grumman announced it formed a team with several other companies, ranging from lunar lander developer Intuitive Machines to tire manufacturer Michelin, to develop an Artemis rover. In March, startup Venturi Astrolab unveiled a prototype of its lunar rover it recently tested in Death Valley, California.

Another industry group has unveiled plans to develop a lunar rover. Teledyne Brown Engineering announced April 5 that it is working with Sierra Space and Nissan North America to propose an Artemis lunar rover. Teledyne Brown will lead the work on the rover, with Sierra Space providing flight software and components and Nissan its experience in automotive design and autonomous driving.

Teledyne Brown noted in a statement that the company’s work on lunar rover concepts dates back to building a lunar rover prototype in the 1960s for NASA. “We feel that we have created a dynamic, cutting-edge and proven team for this effort,” said Scott Hall, president of Teledyne Brown, in the statement. “Together this team will deliver a rugged, versatile and intuitive vehicle to support our future in space.”

Tom Vice, chief executive of Sierra Space, said in an interview that his company’s interest in a lunar rover was based on the company’s long-term view on space commercialization. “The reason why a big part of the company on the exploration side is focused on the moon is because we think it’s the next part that’s going to commercialize,” he said. “We think that’s how humanity is going to get off the planet.”

NASA has yet to release a formal solicitation for a lunar rover after issuing two requests for information in recent years. Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist at NASA Headquarters, said at an Artemis town hall during the Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference in March that he expected the agency to issue a request for proposals for the rover in the next few months.