Intuitive Machines wins NASA award to develop moon buggies

AUSTIN: Three companies won NASA contracts to design and develop vehicles that astronauts may one day drive across the lunar surface, including Intuitive Machines Inc., which recently became the first company to land a privately operated spacecraft intact on the moon.

The three awards are worth as much as US$4.6 billion (RM22bil) combined, NASA said Wednesday, without giving specifics on the individual contracts.

The other two companies selected are closely held Lunar Outpost and Venturi Astrolab.

NASA will work with each team on their designs for roughly a year before selecting one that will move forward to perform a demonstration of the rover on the moon.

The awards are the latest in a series of partnerships that NASA has created as part of its Artemis program, an ambitious plan to return Americans to the moon for the first time in more than 50 years.

NASA hopes to land the first Artemis astronauts on the moon by the end of 2026, though it’s unclear if the agency will meet that deadline.

The plan is for the rovers to arrive on the moon before the arrival of the Artemis V crew, currently slated for 2030.

NASA wants the buggies to have multiple functions. While the cars are meant to be driven by astronauts to quickly cross large distances, they are also supposed to be able to drive themselves when crews aren’t present, similar to the robotic rovers that NASA has sent to Mars.

NASA is working with a variety of contractors and companies to create hardware and spacecraft for the Artemis program, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

The moon buggy award winners are also working with other companies including Intuitive Machines with Boeing, Lunar Outpost with Lockheed Martin, and Venturi Astrolab with Axiom Space.

Similar to some of its other partnerships through Artemis, NASA doesn’t plan to own the moon buggies once they are developed.

Instead, the agency plans to buy rides on the buggies as a service, while the companies that make them are encouraged to use the rovers for commercial purposes outside of NASA.
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