GM, Lockheed Martin team up to develop lunar vehicles

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — General Motors Co. is partnering with Lockheed Martin, a security and aerospace company, to develop lunar vehicles to potentially carry astronauts on the moon, the companies said Wednesday.

NASA has asked industry leaders to send ideas for lunar rovers and for a new lunar terrain vehicle, or LTV, for its Artemis program, which is working to get astronauts back on the moon. The companies expect a request for proposals to come later this year. 

"This partnership is really about getting ahead of NASA's future procurements that they may have and really looking at the commercial environment that's going to be on the lunar surface and building this partnership in advance of that, so that we can lead the way in mobility on the moon," said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of commercial civil space at Lockheed Martin, on a call with media Wednesday.

Lockheed Martin, which has more than 50 years of experience in working with NASA, will lead the team. GM will bring its knowledge of battery-electric and autonomous vehicle technologies to the table for the development.

They plan to produce "a unique vehicle with innovative capabilities, drawing on their unparalleled engineering, performance, technology and reliability legacies," the companies said in a joint press release. These next-generation lunar vehicles will be designed to travel longer distances to get to the moon’s south pole, which is colder, darker and has more rugged terrain.

"The potential for what we're producing with Lockheed will help drive science, innovation and technology forward exponentially we believe for all of humankind," said Alan Wexler, senior vice president of innovation and growth at GM, during the media call. 

Last year, NASA issued two requests for lunar mobility approaches and commercial concepts, and those "responses provide NASA valuable insight to shape a lunar surface mobility plan and inform a potential future acquisition strategy," the federal space agency said in a statement to The Detroit News on Wednesday.

"Additionally, NASA plans to hold an industry day later this year to provide the community with updated LTV (lunar terrain vehicle) information and enable commercial readiness for this endeavor. NASA may publish a formal request for proposals from American companies to develop the LTV at a later date."

Lockheed and GM are in the early stages of development but plan for the LTV to be an electric vehicle since combustion engines cannot be used on the moon, Wexler said.

Kirk Shireman, vice president of lunar exploration campaigns at Lockheed, said the vehicle will be made of "very lightweight, very strong and resilient materials."

"Really the capabilities of the vehicle are still in formulation," he said, adding that Lockheed and GM teams are "making great inroads on electrification and autonomy and vehicle concepts and our experts are leveraging all our experience in building landers and building deep space probes to come up with vehicles that will meet what we need to do."

When asked if the vehicle will be based off an existing GM product, Jeff Ryder, vice president of growth and strategy at GM Defense, said: "This is a more ambitious vision for lunar habitation and mobility ... some of that we'll pull off the shelf and the rest as a team we're gonna figure out how to get it done."

The companies didn't specify an investment amount.

The automaker's subsidiary GM Defense LLC "is on the front end" of this, Ryder said, "because it's a government opportunity, but we have reached back into the the full scale and scope of GM engineering, R&D and the capabilities of the broader corporation, so this is very much a one-team GM effort."

General Motors Co. and Lockheed Martin are partnering to develop a  lunar rover.  This image is a rendering.

GM has supported NASA programs in the past, providing the inertial guidance and navigation systems for the Apollo Moon program, including the Apollo 11 mission that resulted in the first human landing in 1969, the company noted. GM also helped develop the electric Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle.

Lockheed and GM have worked together for the past year on the partnership announced Wednesday; it's their first joint effort on a space project. "This is one of several initiatives that we are working on together so stay tuned to hear more about the others ... it goes beyond this program," Wexler said.

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