General Motors Co. in Detroit and Lockheed Martin in Bethesda, Md., announced plans on Thursday to further expand their partnership to produce an array of electric-powered lunar rovers for NASA using the automaker’s Ultium platform and battery system.
To support future commercial space missions, GM and Lockheed plan to test the Ultium battery system in outer space later this year and begin having the electric-powered lunar rovers on the moon in 2025. Beyond working with NASA, the two companies plan to seek contracts from SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and others.
“The interest around the world is tremendous,” says Derek Hodgins, director of product strategy and sales for lunar infrastructure services at Lockheed Martin.
Most recently, GM has been seeking to expand the use of its Ultium battery system outside of traditional vehicles to include ships, trains, boats, heavy-duty trucks, and other sectors.
For the space program, the new lunar rovers would be built to last 10 years or more on the moon and have a top speed of 12 mph, compared to 7 mph for Apollo-era vehicles. The rovers also would operate autonomously when not being used by astronauts.
In May 2021, GM and Lockheed announced they would bid on contracts to support NASA’s Artemis program that will send humans back to the Moon where they will explore and conduct scientific experiments using a variety of rovers.
NASA has challenged industry to develop a Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) that will enable astronauts to explore the lunar surface farther than ever before. The LTV is the first of many types of surface mobility vehicles needed for NASA’s Artemis program.
To support NASA’s mission, the two industry leaders will develop a unique vehicle with innovative capabilities, drawing on their engineering, performance, technology, and reliability skillsets. The result may allow astronauts to explore the lunar surface in unprecedented fashion and support discovery in places where humans have never gone before.
GM has a history of supporting NASA and working within the space industry. The company manufactured, tested, and integrated the inertial guidance and navigation systems for the entire Apollo Moon program, including Apollo 11 and the first human landing in 1969. GM also helped develop the electric Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), including the chassis and wheels for the LRV that was used on Apollo’s 15-17 missions.
Unlike the Apollo rovers that only traveled 4.7 miles (7.6 kilometers) from the landing site, the next-generation lunar vehicles are being designed to traverse significantly farther distances to support the first excursions of the Moon’s south pole, where it is cold and dark with more rugged terrain.
Autonomous, self-driving systems will allow the rovers to prepare for human landings, provide commercial payload services, and enhance the range and utility of scientific payloads and experiments.
Lockheed Martin has built spacecraft and systems that have gone to every planet, been on every NASA mission to Mars, including building 11 of the agency’s Mars spacecraft, and played major roles on the space shuttle program and International Space Station power systems.