Three companies are to build lunar vehicles on behalf of the US space agency NASA. The private space companies Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost and Venturi Astrolab have been selected for the total 4.6 billion dollar (around 4.3 billion euros) contract, NASA announced at a press conference.

Each of the three companies will now work on a prototype for a year before deciding which vehicle will be sent to the moon, how and when. The companies have all been working in similar areas for a long time. Intuitive Machines achieved the first unmanned commercial landing on the moon in February.

High demands for extreme conditions

In the future, astronauts will be able to move around on the lunar surface using so-called “Lunar Terrain Vehicles”. Among other things, the vehicles must be able to withstand the extreme conditions on the moon, and there are also high requirements for power supply, autonomous driving, communication and navigation, among other things.

“These vehicles will greatly enhance astronauts’ ability to explore and conduct research on the surface of the moon,” said Vanessa Wyche, head of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “At the same time, they will be a scientific platform between manned missions.”

“Artemis 2” planned for September 2025

With the “Artemis” program named after the Greek goddess of the moon, NASA wants to put people on the moon for the first time in more than half a century – including the first non-white person and the first woman. The long-term goal of “Artemis” is to establish a permanent lunar base as a basis for missions to Mars.

However, NASA had to postpone the manned lunar orbit “Artemis 2”, which was actually planned for November 2024, to September 2025 due to problems with the rocket and spacecraft, and the planned manned lunar landing “Artemis 3” to September 2026. There is competition from China, which will do so by 2030 wants to put people on the moon.