HOUSTON – NASA plans to issue a call to a lunar rover that can be used by future crew missions to the moon and, like many other parts of the Artemis program, is being developed in a partnership with industry.
Tom Cremins, NASA's associate administrator for strategy and plans, spoke at SpaceCom Expo here November 20. The Security Agency will soon release a request for information on an imprecise lunar route for the use of astronauts on the Artemis landing missions.
We want it [rover] where when the first crews arrive and then be there to be used potentially autonomously from the gateway, to conduct operations and add to the scientific goals, "he said.
The RFI, which he said would be released "in the coming weeks" would suggest eventually developing the rover through a public-private partnership. The work will be led by the Johnson Space Center.
Mobility has long been considered an important element for all exploration of the lunar surface, either robotic or human. NASA confirmed plans in October to develop a separate robot rover, called the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), which would launch to the moon on a commercial lander in 2022 to investigate possible water ice deposits in craters at the lunar south pole. Ben Bussey, senior exploration researcher for NASA's Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program, said in another panel at the conference that the agency will follow up VIPER with additional robotic revolutions at a cadence of about every two years.
Developing rover as a partnership with industry would follow the model of many other parts of NASA's overall Artemis program, including the countries that will carry astronauts to the lunar surface. The agency is currently evaluating proposals submitted earlier this month for its Human Landing Systems program that would use a more commercial approach to lander development and possible procurement of landing services. Cremins declined to comment on the specifics of that program, including how many proposals the agency received, citing an ongoing procurement blackout.
Even when the agency is focused on achieving the goal set by the March administration to land people on the moon by 2024, Cremins said NASA is looking forward to concepts for lunar activities beyond 2024, which he said will provide more opportunities for both commercial and international partners.
Japan, he noted, is interested in contributing to a larger pressurized lunar rover for later missions that may allow longer expeditions from the landing site. There is also planning for what he called a "cabin at the border" or a habitat that can support crews during extended stays.
Another aspect of these plans after 2024 is to expand the lunar gateway's capacity and roles. "What we plan to do with Gateway is to build up early capacity with international partners and with commercial partners," he said. "As we pass 2024, we will involve Gateway with those elements on the lunar surface."
Cremins added that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has resembled Gateway with a smartphone, "and we will build a lot of apps off that."
He noted that there have been many previous efforts to return people to the moon, and recalled his participation in efforts such as the Synthesis Group study in the early 1