NASA has chosen three companies to participate in the first phase of developing, building and operating Lunar Terrain Vehicles as part of the Artemis campaign. Eventually one of the three — Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost, or Venturi Astrolab — will be chosen to build an LTV that can be used both autonomously and with astronauts.

As with many elements of the Artemis program, NASA is using Public-Private Partnerships to acquire the LTVs, purchasing services instead of owning the vehicles. The companies design, build and deliver the LTVs to the lunar surface for use by NASA and other customers. The unpressurized vehicles can be operated remotely or with spacesuited astronauts.

The announcement today was for the first phase, 12-month feasibility studies, that will lead to a preliminary design review. Lara Kearney, NASA’s program manager for Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility at Johnson Space Center, explained at a news conference that will be followed by a Request for Proposals for development and demonstration, Phase 2. “We anticipate only being able to award that demonstration task order to one of these companies.”

That will be followed by annual service task orders. The contract calls for LTV services to be available for 10 years, but does not specify how that’s achieved — one rover capable of surviving the harsh lunar conditions for 10 years, or a series of rovers replaced as needed. The company will make that decision. She stressed the “contract mechanism is extraordinarily flexible” and provides on-ramps for additional companies. She declined to say how many applicants there were this time.

The contract has a total maximum value of $4.6 billion.

Kearney said that amount covers 15 years: 5 years for development and 10 years of services. The awards today are for only a “small fraction” of that amount. A “big chunk” will be needed for development, followed by services.

The winners today are Intuitive Machines of Houston, TX, Lunar Outpost of Golden, CO, and Venturi Astrolab of Hawthorne, CA.

Intuitive Machines made headlines in February when its Odysseus lunar lander became the first U.S. spacecraft to set down on the Moon since the Apollo program. Though the landing was sporty, the company and NASA declared the mission a success. Odysseus, or Odie, used the company’s Nova-C lander design. For this Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services, or LTVS, contract, they will move on to the Nova-D model, Moon Reusable Autonomous Crewed Exploration Rover or Moon RACER. They are teamed with AVL, Boeing, Michelin and Northrop Grumman.  CEO Steve Altemus said “This procurement strategically aligns with the Company’s flight-proven capability to deliver payloads to the surface of the Moon under the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, further solidifying our position as a proven commercial contractor in lunar exploration.”

Illustration of the Moon RACER Lunar Terrain Vehicle. Credit: Intuitive Machines

Lunar Outpost is working with Lockheed Martin, General Motors, Goodyear, and MDA Space on the Lunar Dawn LTV. Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus said the company “looks forward to driving value in the cislunar economy by providing a reliable, safe and capable vehicle that will be used to provide mobility to Artemis astronauts and perform critical missions autonomously on the Moon for commercial endeavors.”

Illustration of the Lunar Dawn LTV. Credit: Lunar Outpost

Venturi Astrolab is partnered with Axiom Space and Odyssey Space Research on the Flexible Logistics and Exploration, or FLEX, Lunar Terrain Vehicle. Astrolab announced an agreement with SpaceX last year to launch FLEX on SpaceX’s Starship as soon as mid-2026. Founder and CEO Jaret Matthews said “Our entire team, together with our business partners, are committed to delivering to NASA an LTV that serves as a critical tool in the agency’s efforts to establish a long-term human presence on the Moon.”

Illustration of Astrolab’s Flexible Logistics and Exploration (FLEX) LTV. Credit: Venturi Astrolab.

Whichever company proceeds into the final phase will be responsible for designing, developing, building, and launching the LTV to the Moon. NASA will purchase services for use of the vehicle once it is there. NASA intends for the LTV to be available for the Artemis V crew. NASA’s FY2025 budget request shows that mission taking place in 2030.

Source: NASA FY2025 budget request documentation.

These vehicles are conceptually similar to the lunar rovers used by the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 crews. Astronauts using them to get around on the lunar surface will have to wear spacesuits.

Toyota and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are working on a pressurized rover, Lunar Cruiser, that will allow the astronauts to work in a shirtsleeve environment. Kearney said today an announcement is planned “in about a week” regarding Lunar Cruiser.

“The LTV is unpressurized. It likely will be more limited in range. A pressurized rover when it comes along with life support will be able to extend the cruise range even further away from a lander. So our concept is that the unpressurized LTV and the pressurized vehicle work together in some type of operational concept to support the crews and the scientific missions. … We do have an announcement about a week from now related to the pressurized rover so we’ll be able to talk to you a little bit more about that in about a week or so.”

The U.S.-led Artemis campaign is designed for sustainable, long-term exploration and utilization of the Moon with commercial and international partners.

Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency, and the United Arab Emirates already are international partners and NASA has a number of commercial partners through Public-Private Partnerships. The latter include SpaceX and Blue Origin for Human Landing Systems to transport astronauts between lunar orbit and the surface; Axiom Space for lunar spacesuits; and Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, Firefly and Draper for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative to deliver NASA science and technology payloads to the lunar surface on robotic landers.

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