The GM Design squad has uploaded a refined version of its lunar rover concept to its Instagram page. The new video of a potential moon buggy for NASA’s Project Artemis moon mission gives us a longer and better glimpse at GM’s vision for how astronauts might one day get from their lunar apartments to their lunar labs and lunar 7-Elevens. And this time we get to see how the rover might get to the surface, set down on an elevated platform it can roll off akin to how the NASA Spirit rover introduced itself to Mars in 2004.
As for the rover itself, the basic layout hasn’t changed from the one GM Design showed when it announced it’s working with Lockheed Martin on the project; there are two seats ahead with a cargo bed aft. The seatbacks on the new concept are shown folded down when the rover is in autonomous mode on its way to astronauts, lifting automatically when human riders are ready to get on board. The previous concept placed two instrument panels in front of occupants and appeared to carry cargo behind the platform, but those features are gone. Looks like where those astronauts are going, they won’t need individual controls. The other big change is a large roll hoop with a rotating solar panel atop to gather more energy during the moon’s two-week-long day.
We’re a long way from knowing what rover will get to the moon, though. NASA only put out a request for information from interested parties in August of last year, with responses turned in at the beginning of October. We know NASA wants a battery-powered open-air rover that astronauts can drive and ride in while wearing spacesuits (obviously), can be carried to the moon in one piece, will have autonomous capability, can be remotely operated, can survive 10 years in service on the moon, and serve multiple Project Artemis missions. Details about how far a new buggy, officially called a Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV), needs to be able to travel or how much it needs to be able to carry haven’t been made public. What we know so far makes it clear that the LTVs aren’t meant to be the disposable getabouts used on three Apollo missions, but rather the first long-term transportation options for a lunar society. That means enduring 10 years of temperature differentials from 280 degrees Fahrenheit below zero when out of the sun to 260 degrees above when in the sun, lunar sand that’s sharp as glass, and being able to store enough energy during the two-week lunar sunshine phase to power the LTV during the two-week lunar darkness phase.
GM isn’t the only auto industry concern working on going even more boldly where man has gone before. Toyota has showed an enclosed, six-wheeled, hydrogen-powered rover it worked on with Japanese space agency JAXA, Hyundai repurposed its Cradle robot for lunar duty as the Tiger X-1, and vehicle powertrain testing company AVL is working with Northrop Grumman, Michelin, and another partner. This is essentially an international rendition of automaker involvement on the Apollo missions, wherein GM developed guidance systems and the motors, suspension, and wheels on the rover, Chrysler built a variety of rocket engines including the Saturn 1B titans, and Ford helped with communications systems.
You can expect a lot more lunar talk as Project Artemis prepares to establish a lunar base at the moon’s south pole. Beyond the LTV, NASA has also said it wants a larger, sealed, mobile platform that will effectively allow astronauts to go glamping away from the Artemis base camp. And since Project Artemis is considered a stepping stone to a colonized Martian base, the consortiums that provide successful lunar rovers will probably get the hole shot at the Red Planet.