NASA picks 3 companies to design lunar rover for Artemis astronauts to drive on the moon

NASA's next moon car is starting to take shape.

The agency has selected three private teams — led by the companies Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost and Venturi Astrolab, respectively — to develop their versions of the Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV), the rover that Artemis astronauts will drive around the moon's southern polar region beginning in 2030.

"We look forward to the development of the Artemis generation lunar exploration vehicle to help us advance what we learn at the moon," Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, said in a statement today. "This vehicle will greatly increase our astronauts' ability to explore and conduct science on the lunar surface while also serving as a science platform between crewed missions." 

Related: NASA's new moon car for Artemis will be inspired by Mars rovers

A concept of a Lunar Outpost moon rover driving on the lunar surface with astronauts aboard. (Image credit: Lunar Outpost)

Each team will continue developing its rover concept over the next 12 months, under a "feasibility task order" from the agency. The teams will then be eligible to compete for a different NASA task order — one to build their vehicle and get it to the moon in a key demonstration ahead of the Artemis 5 mission, which is currently scheduled to launch in March 2030

"NASA anticipates making an award to only one provider for the demonstration," agency officials wrote in today's statement. "NASA will issue additional task orders to provide unpressurized rover capabilities for the agency's moonwalking and scientific exploration needs through 2039."

As that statement notes, NASA will buy rover services, not the actual LTV(s). The setup is similar to the contracts that the agency has signed with SpaceX for cargo and crew delivery services to the International Space Station, which the company accomplishes with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.

The total potential value of the LTV services contract is $4.6 billion for all awards, NASA said in today's statement. The selected team or teams will be responsible not only for building their rover, but also getting it to the moon's south polar region.

A concept of the Intuitive Machines Moon Racer rover driving on the lunar surface with astronauts aboard. (Image credit: Intuitive Machines)

The LTV will be the United States' first moon car since the Lunar Roving Vehicle, which debuted on the Apollo 15 mission in 1971. 

The new machine will be similar to that famous "moon buggy" in some ways. It will be unpressurized, for example, meaning astronauts who ride it will need to keep their spacesuits on. It will also be a two-person vehicle, like the Apollo rover. 

A NASA astronaut drives a lunar rover on the moon during the Apollo 15 mission in 1971. (Image credit: NASA)

But the Artemis car will be different in some key ways. Most importantly, it will be able to move without anyone in the driver's seat, something the old moon buggy couldn't do.

The LTV "will support phases driven by astronauts and phases as an uncrewed mobile science exploration platform, similar to NASA's Curiosity and Perseverance Mars rovers," NASA officials wrote in a May 2023 statement. "This will enable continued performance of science even when crews are not present on the lunar surface."

Artist's concept of the Venturi Astrolab FLEX moon rover driving on the lunar surface with astronauts aboard. (Image credit: Astrolab)

That work will take place near the moon's south pole, where NASA aims to establish one or more Artemis bases. This part of the moon is thought to contain large amounts of water ice, which, if sufficiently accessible, could be used for astronaut life support and also be processed into rocket fuel.

NASA has launched one Artemis mission to date — Artemis 1, which sent an uncrewed Orion capsule to lunar orbit (and back) in late 2022. Artemis 2 is scheduled to launch four astronauts around the moon in September 2025, and Artemis 3 will put boots down near the lunar south pole a year later, if all goes according to plan.

NASA wants to have an LTV on the moon prior to the arrival of the Artemis 5 crew in 2030. But if it's ready before then, so much the better.

"If they can get there earlier, we'll take it earlier," Lara Kearney, manager of the Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program at JSC, said in a press conference this afternoon.

Related: NASA's Artemis program: Everything you need to know

The wheels of LTV development started turning in February 2020, when NASA asked industry to contribute ideas for the nation's next moon car. 

The agency requested additional input in August 2021. Then, on May 26 of last year, NASA issued its official request for LTV proposals, with a submission deadline of July 10. The agency originally planned to winnow the pool that November but delayed decision day by four months, until today.

One of the companies that made this first big cut — Houston-based Intuitive Machines — has already sent a vehicle to the moon. In February, Intuitive Machines' robotic Odysseus lander became the first private spacecraft ever to ace a soft lunar touchdown. Odysseus notched that milestone under a different NASA contract, awarded by the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.