We’re going back to the moon and General Motors is coming along, too. Just as it did with Boeing back in the 1960s, GM is teaming up with the aerospace experts at Lockheed Martin for the newest versions of the moon buggy. This time, however, much of the technology used in these buggies are coming from the same Ultium EV tech used in the GMC Hummer and Chevrolet Silverado EV trucks.
The Original Buggy
For now, these are the renderings of the future lunar rovers. Unlike the original moon buggy—officially known as lunar rover vehicles or LRVs—these are much larger and will potentially drive farther thanks to modern battery technology. The original rover was launched in 1971 and created to extend the Apollo missions beyond the walking distance of the astronauts. It was also developed in about 17 months by GM Defense Research Labs, Delco Electronics, and Boeing and built in Kent, Washington. The buggy used four brushed DC motors capable of about 0.25 hp. Only intended push the LRV to 8 mph, astronaut Eugene Cernan was able to push his buggy to 11 mph during the Apollo 17 mission.
Power for the lunar rover was provided by a pair of 36-volt, 4.4-kWh silver zinc batteries that were connected in parallel for a total capacity of 8.8 kWh. While a far cry from our current generation of Lithium-based batteries, the buggy was able to drive as far as 50 miles on a full charge. During Apollo 15 and 16, due to safety concerns, the buggies were nevertheless limited to just 10 miles in a single direction and the initial drive during Apollo 15 was 17.25 miles total. However, by Apollo 17, these concerns were relaxed and that mission’s LRV went a total of 22.3 miles with a 12.5-mile long, one-way distance.
The New Buggies
Fortunately, technology has taken some great leaps and bounds since Apollo 17. According to GM back in May of 2021, these next-generation lunar rover vehicles are being designed to drive even farther distances to support the first excursions of the Moon’s south pole. These new LRVs will also need better technology beyond their capacities as the south pole is dark, making it much colder with much more rugged terrain and the sunlit surfaces the Apollo missions landed in.
Fortunately, GM’s Ultium technologies will most likely help create the drive and battery packs these new rovers need. These new rovers will also be autonomous, allowing them to launch prior to the human landings. This is needed to help prepare for “commercial payload services and enhance the range and utility of scientific payloads and experiments” according to GM.
Not The Only Player In Town
Another difference from the original Apollo missions, even the ones prior to the rover missions, there will be several lunar missions sanctioned by NASA. One of those missions also includes another rover built by Northrop Grumman. It is joined by AVL, Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost, and Michelin to create the Lunar Terrain Vehicle—the LTV. Each brand is bringing its own expertise to the LTV. Northrop Grumman will lead systems integration, bridging its own flight-proven experience with spacecraft design to include cargo storage, energy management, avionics, navigation, sensors, controls, mission planning, operations and training..
AVL is billed as an industry leader for the development, simulation, and testing of vehicle systems and will be used for its expertise in the advancement of battery electric vehicles, autonomous driving, and propulsion solutions. Intuitive Machines and their Nova-D spacecraft will be used to bring the LTV to the Moon using four liquid methane/oxygen engines from their Nova-C program. Lunar Outpost—a leader in lunar mobility platforms according to Northrop—will leverage its dust mitigation and thermal technologies from the development of its MAPP rover to help develop similar solutions for the LTV.
Tweels On The Rover Go ‘Round and ‘Round
Last, but not least, Michelin is using its own experiences with NASA’s expertise in high-tech materials, and its development of airless solutions for extreme applications to design an airless tire for the LTV. Yes, the Tweel is going to the Moon and a lunar rover will probably not have a tire made of zinc-coated piano wire and aluminum strips this time.
We’re in an exciting time of space exploration and it looks as if we’re finally going back to the moon with some mobile support. It just looks like the technology flow is going the other way, this time. Instead of what we learned in development of going to the Moon, we’re using what we’ve developed on Earth for everyday travel to go back.
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