Tue. May 28th, 2024

NASA’s Latest Scoop: Picking Lunar Rover Teams!

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May25,2024

WASHINGTON — NASA documents show how the agency balanced cost, capabilities and experience in its selection of three companies to continue work on an Artemis lunar rover.

NASA selected proposals led by Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost and Venturi Astrolab for its Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) Services program April 3. Each company received a task order to fund design work leading up to a preliminary design review.

The agency provided few details about why it selected those three companies at the time of the announcement, declining to even disclose the number of companies that submitted proposals. However, it revealed more specifics in a source selection statement published April 9.

The document confirmed listings in procurement databases that nine companies submitted LTV proposals. The statement said that NASA deemed three proposals, from automotive technology company 3Sixty Degrees, space robotics company GITAI and a company identified only as ORBIT, as unacceptable and were not evaluated.

The evaluation then ruled out proposals from Astrobotic, Blue Origin and Leidos, but did not specify why those proposals failed to make the cut. Astrobotic and Blue Origin had not disclosed plans to compete for an LTV contract, but Leidos did announce its plans a year ago, working with partners that included racing company NASCAR.

NASA requested updated proposals from Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost and Astrolab, which the agency evaluated in detail before electing to award contracts to all three companies based on a combination of price, past performance and a combination of technical and management factors called mission suitability.

Intuitive Machines had the lowest overall price, at $1.692 billion, but also the lowest mission suitability score of 724 out of 1,000. NASA praised the proposal for “a unique type of detachable trailer architecture” that would be used with the rover, something the company didn’t emphasize in its announcement of the award. However, that trailer also created a weakness cited by the proposal because, of the placement of the rover’s robotic arm, “it will be difficult or impossible to gather pristine samples with the trailer connected.”

Lunar Outpost fell in the middle in terms of both price, $1.727 billion, and mission suitability score, 863. The assessment cited as a significant strength “an advanced technology for energy storage that is a reasonable and feasible approach to greatly exceed the vehicle performance requirements while meeting battery safety requirements.” The proposal did not elaborate on that technology, but the Lunar Outpost team includes General Motors, which is providing battery technology based on what it has been developing for its electric vehicles.

Astrolab had the highest mission suitability score of 905 but also the highest price, $1.928 billion. Among its strengths was a proposal to co-manifest the rover on the Starship lander for Artemis 4, one mission earlier than NASA expects the LTV to be available. The rover can also navigate steeper slopes than NASA requires and the company overall included “multiple exceedances of required minimum requirements.”

The statement, though, raised questions about Astrolab’s ability to carry out the work. “Based on the Astrolab Team’s performance record, there is a Low level of confidence that the Offeror will successfully perform the required effort,” NASA stated. Both Intuitive Machines and Lunar Outpost, companies whose teams include companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, had “Moderate” levels of confidence.

However, Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Center and the source selection official for the contract, concluded in the statement that the past performance records of all three companies “gives me confidence that the teams are capable and possess the necessary experience to perform the work under the LTVS contract.”

She ultimately approved giving contracts to all three companies, concluding that the higher prices offered by Astrolab and Lunar Outpost were offset by their higher mission suitability scores. NASA, though, currently plans to select only one of the companies for a task order to develop and demonstrate its rover after completion of the preliminary design reviews.

That approach is contrary to other services agreements, where NASA has sought to have at least two companies providing capabilities. “Some of it comes down to just budgets. We have constrained budgets at the agency that we have to live within,” said Chris Hansen, deputy manager of NASA’s Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility program, during an April 11 briefing at the 39th Space Symposium.

“We maintain competition as far as we can into that,” he said, arguing that NASA’s approach to the LTV program gives the agency “better assurance that we can stay within the budgets that we’re given to accomplish our mission.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “NASA’s Latest Scoop: Picking Lunar Rover Teams!”
  1. It’s great to see NASA carefully considering the cost, capabilities, and experience of the companies for the Lunar Rover project. Excited to see the progress from Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost, and Venturi Astrolab!

  2. It’s great to see NASA carefully selecting teams for the Lunar Rover project, ensuring a balance of cost, capabilities, and experience. Excited to see the progress these companies will make towards the Artemis mission!

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