WASHINGTON – The Japanese and Canadian space agencies announced plans to send small rovers to the moon in the next few years on May 26 when Lockheed Martin announced a partnership with automaker General Motors to propose a rover for NASA’s Artemis program .

Japanese space agency JAXA said it was working with several Japanese companies to fly a tiny rover on a lunar lander mission set to be launched by ispace in 2022. The rover, roughly the size of a baseball, is split in half after landing, using the two hemispheres as wheels. It will go to the surface to collect data on autonomous driving technology to aid the development of future rovers, including a large pressurized rover that JAXA is developing in partnership with Toyota.

The rover is one of several payloads that ispace is carrying to the moon on its first lunar lander called Mission 1, which will launch in 2022. The lander carries another rover called the Rashid, which is being developed by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center in the United Arab Emirates as part of a deal announced in April.

Speaking to reporters, Takeshi Hakamada, executive director of the Tokyo-based company, said the JAXA deal now means the payload space on the Mission 1 lander is full. The lander itself is assembled and tested in an ArianeGroup plant in Germany. The lander will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 in 2022. “We are very confident that we will meet this schedule,” he said.

Mission 1, as the name suggests, is the first in a series of lunar lander missions that ispace proposes to fly. “The commercial lunar transport business has started,” he said. “I am proud that we support many customers.”

Ispace’s Hakuto-R-Lander, which will land on Mission 1 on the moon in 2022. Credit: ispace

Canadian plans

Ispace’s Mission 1 customers include three Canadian companies that will fly instruments or collect data on the lander mission with the support of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) awards announced on May 26th.

Mission Control Space Services will fly a computer on the land to test artificial intelligence algorithms used to aid the operation of the Rashid rover. Canadensys Aerospace Corporation offers a camera that can take 360-degree images. NGC Aerospace Ltd. will test a navigation system that takes pictures of the moon from orbit and compares them with maps to get an accurate location.

While each company received funding from CSA for its payloads, the companies independently arranged payloads on ispace’s Mission 1 lander. Hakamada said he believes all companies have chosen ispace based on its technology and business model.

“Mission Control is confident they can carry out this state-of-the-art mission and is helping us demonstrate the state of the art in operating lunar roverers,” said Ewan Reid, president and general manager of Mission Control Space Services, of ispace in ein Explanation.

CSA highlighted these three payloads during a separate briefing on May 26 as part of a broader discussion of the agency’s lunar plans. This includes contributing the Canadarm3 robotic arm for NASA’s lunar gateway and, in return, flying a Canadian astronaut on the Artemis 2 mission around the moon and a later mission to the gateway.

The agency continues with Plans discussed last year to fly a small rover on a future robotic lunar lander. The rover will carry two instruments, a Canadian and an American. It is designed for at least one lunar day and, if it can survive the 14-day lunar night, for a second lunar day.

CSA President Lisa Campbell said the agency will shortly be launching a call for proposals for the rover and selecting two companies for initial design and development work before selecting one of them to build the rover.

The agency didn’t discuss launch plans for the rover at the event, but officials previously said it would fly on a commercial lander for the next five years through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. “The timeline is as aggressive as ever,” she said.

Lockheed and GM join forces

While Canada and Japan plan to fly small robotic rovers, Lockheed Martin announced May 26th a partnership with General Motors to work on developing a rover to carry astronauts on Artemis missions.

Lockheed executives said they had decided to partner with one of the world’s largest automakers to harness technology developed for land vehicles to be used on rovers more capable than the rovers that were last half a century ago three Apollo missions were deployed.

“To have a permanent presence on the moon, we need mobility,” said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of commercial civil space at Lockheed, in an online event about the partnership. “GM is investing billions of dollars in battery technology and autonomy. We are very excited about this partnership, which we combine with our expertise in building space robots and human spacecraft. ”

GM executives said they are interested in a novel application of technology they are developing for conventional automobiles. “For GM employees, if you are a vehicle engineer and have the opportunity to work on the moon vehicle, this is a dream come true,” said Jeff Ryder, vice president, growth and strategy, General Motors Defense. the GM subsidiary working on government programs.

While the companies showed images of a rover that could carry two astronauts, the companies revealed few technical details about the design and not how much money had been invested in the project so far. “We are at a very early stage to shape this,” said Ryder.

Part of the reason for the lack of detail is that companies are waiting for NASA to publish a call for proposals to develop a lunar rover. The RFP is expected in the second half of this year, Ryder said, and companies will use the requirements the agency is taking to refine their design and seek funding for it.

“We’re not just looking at the needs we expect from NASA, we’re also looking at other areas of the lunar economy that we believe the rover can satisfy,” said Kirk Shireman, vice president of lunar exploration campaigns at Lockheed Martin. “We are in the process of dreaming big and moving closer to the requirements that we imagine. It’s a very, very fun time for the project. “

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