NASA selects companies to develop, operate moon rover for Artemis astronauts

NASA announced Wednesday the three companies selected to develop and operate a lunar terrain vehicle to help Artemis astronauts explore the moon's surface and prepare for human missions to Mars. Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost and Venturi Astrolab were awarded contracts with a maximum value of $4.6 billion. Image courtesy of Lunar Outpost

April 3 (UPI) -- NASA announced the three companies Wednesday that will help Artemis astronauts travel and explore on the moon's surface as early as 2030.

Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost and Venturi Astrolab will develop and operate a lunar terrain vehicle to move astronauts and their exploration and scientific experiments, as they prepare for human missions to Mars. NASA plans to start using the LTVs during the Artemis V mission.

"Where we're going, we don't need roads," NASA wrote Wednesday in a post on X as the space agency announced the three awards.

"We look forward to the development of the Artemis generation lunar exploration vehicle to help us advance what we learn at the Moon," said Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"This vehicle will greatly increase our astronauts' ability to explore and conduct science on the lunar surface while also serving as a science platform between crewed missions," Wyche added.

All three companies posted their enthusiastic responses within minutes of NASA's announcement.

"NASA has awarded Intuitive Machines $30 million as a prime contractor to complete a Lunar Terrain Vehicles Services contract," the company announced Wednesday in a post on X.

"NASA has selected the Lunar Dawn team to develop a next-gen lunar terrain vehicle as part of the NASA Artemis program!" Lunar Outpost announced in its post on X.

"The American company Venturi Astrolab, Inc., a strategic partner of the Monegasque Venturi Group, has been awarded a NASA contract to support the development of Artemis campaign's lunar terrain vehicle," Venturi announced Wednesday.

NASA's contract has a combined maximum value of $4.6 billion for all three awards. Each company will spend the next year designing and developing systems to meet NASA's requirements, which will be followed by a demonstration mission.

The complete LTV will be delivered to the surface of the moon ahead of Artemis V to make sure it is operating well. According to NASA, only one company will receive an award for the lunar demonstration. Other task orders will be issued for NASA's moonwalking and scientific exploration needs through 2039.

NASA plans to send crewed missions -- that will include the first woman, first person of color and the agency's first international partner astronaut -- to explore the moon and to prepare for human exploration of Mars. Artemis 3 is currently slated for September 2026 and Artemis 4 is expected to launch no earlier than September 2028.

The LTV will need to be able to handle extreme conditions at the moon's South Pole, along with advanced technologies for autonomous driving, communications and navigation. Between missions, the vehicle will operate remotely.

"We will use the LTV to travel to locations we might not otherwise be able to reach on foot, increasing our ability to explore and make new scientific discoveries," said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist in the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"With the Artemis crewed missions, and during remote operations when there is not a crew on the surface, we are enabling science and discovery on the moon year-round."