Development of General Motors and Lockheed Martin’s Lunar Mobility Vehicle (LMV) is underway and both companies plan to deliver the first of these vehicles by the middle of the decade. As its name suggests, the LMV is a vehicle destined for the moon that could play a role in NASA’s upcoming Artemis mission to bring humanity back to Earth’s lonely satellite more than 50 years later. completing the Apollo missions.
That said, there is no guarantee that this jointly developed lunar vehicle will win the NASA contract and make the trip. As of this writing, NASA has released an Information Request (RFI) for what it calls the Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) for the mission. The US space agency plans to release a RFP request before the end of the year, when sellers such as GM and Lockheed Martin can submit business proposals for the project, with NASA later outsourcing from these suppliers the contract. Whatever the outcome, GM and Lockheed Martin are ready to manufacture and produce the LMV with or without government funding.
“[This is] a vehicle developed 100 percent for the industry, “said Derek Hodgins of Lockheed Martin during a media event at GM Milford Proving Ground in Michigan. The two American companies brought us here to pull the curtain on the LMV development process for commercial use.
Testing such a vehicle on our planet, however, is a difficult task given the differences between the Earth and Moon environment, the latter of which includes large craters, an approximate temperature change of 500 degrees Fahrenheit and a gravitational pull that is about one-sixth. of blue marble we call home. Thus, GM created a digital lunar surface using data provided by Lockheed Martin. The automaker then feeds this information to the Driver-in-the-Loop (DIL) simulator at Milford Proving Ground.
Although DIL is an essential element in the development of LMV, its use covers many projects. In fact, DIL was the key to the GMC Hummer EV’s short development time, which went from idea to complete vehicle in about two years – about half the time it usually takes GM to complete this process.
Evaluate the relative ease with which GM engineers can change vehicle dynamics using DIL. Does the virtual vehicle show too much body rolling or is it too willing to pull its tail in half? All it takes is a few modifications to the data set to customize the dynamic features of the vehicle suspension.
GM avoided sharing the cost of DIL with us. However, a company spokesman told us that DIL has paid more than just save on tires and fuel – items that the car industry pays for when a vehicle undergoes actual development tests. This does not mean that DIL replaces such tests. Instead, the adjustment allows GM engineers to focus on developing more promising dynamic profiles (and subtracting less favorably) for a particular vehicle when it comes time to test it in real-world environments.
Given the 238,355 miles that – on average – separate the Earth from the Moon, the dynamic development of the first LMV will be largely based on information collected by the DIL. To better understand this process, GM and Lockheed Martin gave us the opportunity to wander through DIL’s iconic lunar landscape on a digital LMV.
While the production LMV will incorporate controls, as in the lunar rover of later Apollo missions, the DIL cockpit included steering wheel and brake and accelerator pedals for steering, stopping and accelerating the virtual LMV. Similarly, tweel-like tires in the digital vehicle are not expected to reach the final product. Instead, the LMV will be wearing mesh-like tires reminiscent of those of Apollo lunar rovers. This type of tire design is less likely to pick up the sharp, sticky dust on the moon’s surface.
Although the LMV’s operating speed is expected to average 5 mph, the GM and Lockheed Martin virtual vehicle mounted on the DIL exceeded 12.5 mph – a terrifying speed for driving in low-gravity atmospheres on rocky, crater-filled surfaces. . Honestly, we wish we had more to share about driving this virtual vehicle in this digitally generated lunar landscape, however, we could not fight motion sickness while handling the theme park ride like DIL (something for which we warned before entering the DIL cockpit). Although we devoted all our time to making the most of the power produced by the LMV’s four electric motors (all of which were described as “low” by a GM representative), our concern did not allow us to estimate or fully evaluate the driving experience of the LMV.
GM and Lockheed Martin envision the LMV as a predominantly autonomous vehicle, with humans occupying the control lever for about a week a year. The goal is to drive the vehicle itself with minimal supervision, with its chief engineer, Brent Deep, stating that the LMV’s autonomous capabilities will be based on knowledge gained from Cruise self-driving vehicle technology and hands-free Super Cruise and GM Ultra Cruise driver assistance systems.
Similarly, the LMV will power its engines via a battery, such as the so-called Ultium GM units that match the GMC Hummer EV and the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq. The differences between the LMV battery pack and the GM battery pack in its passenger cars: The lunar vehicle package is based on cylindrical cells, as opposed to those in the case style. According to Deep, cylindrical cells cope better with huge fluctuations in the moon’s temperature.
GM and Lockheed Martin intend the LMV to have a long life, with both companies expecting to bring many vehicle variants to the moon as a means of maximizing the project’s commercial viability. “We do not have a disposable rover,” Deep said.
If all goes according to plan, space services – and perhaps even wealthy adventurers – around the world will pay to use LMVs developed jointly by GM and Lockheed Martin during lunar missions – or just for kicks.
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