We drove the new lunar vehicle from GM and Lockheed Martin

Enlarge / Of course, when we say we drove GM’s new Lunar Vehicle, we mean we drove it in the simulator in Milford, Michigan.

Roberto Baldwin

General Motors provided a return flight from San Francisco to Detroit, plus a night at the hotel so we could drive the Lunar Vehicle in the GM simulator. Ars does not accept paid editorial content.

MILFORD, ME. – I was told over the radio not to go into the large crater near the south pole of the moon. I’d circled the ridge looking for a way in, and as soon as mission control realized what I was about to do, they countered my course. I turned away from the impact site and headed toward a hazy distant sun, determined to hit at least 15 mph while battling the uncomfortable effects of gravity, which is one-sixth the force of gravity.

General Motors and its partner Lockheed Martin are building a lunar rover without a NASA contract. They want to fly this vehicle to the moon to support the Artemis mission because we’re going back to the moon to drive and GM wants to be there first.

Another voice comes over the radio. “That’s five minutes. Please stop and we’ll re-center the rig.”

The facility is GM’s Driver in the Loop (DIL) simulator at the automaker’s Milford proving ground in Milford, Michigan. The “vehicle” I’m in – while driving on the moon – has a typical GM interior, but with a Corvette steering wheel; probably a nod to the automaker’s history of giving the sports car as gifts to astronauts. Meanwhile, the projected exterior is a pre-mapped actual location on the moon, exactly one square kilometer near the moon’s south pole.

Driving the simulator is the easy part, as demonstrated by the small army of engineers in the control room.
Enlarge / Driving the simulator is the easy part, as demonstrated by the small army of engineers in the control room.

Roberto Baldwin

It’s a vast wasteland of gray with a diffuse sun blazing across the sky. The monochromatic landscape makes it difficult to determine depth. It’s not an impossible task, but there are still moments when what looks like a small bump turns into something bigger as it approaches.

Understanding and predicting the physics of driving on our largest satellite is key to deciding whether to hit the Space Divot head-on or try to avoid it. With help from Lockheed, GM programmed the vehicle to drive and respond in an environment with 1/6 the gravity of Earth. The suspension and handling have a floating quality. With less gravity and zero atmospheric downforce, it’s all a potential airborne launch.

According to GM’s advanced vehicle dynamics program manager, the system tends to make people nauseous because your brain wants everything to respond as it would with Earth’s gravity. The simulator’s lunar tuning doesn’t do what your body expects. Hence a few queasy stomachs and the five-minute time limit. GM’s team has gone from their five-minute meetings to hour-long field trips.

In other words, we can’t ride the moon sim all day because there would be puke.

The terrain itself is an electrostatically charged regolith of metal and glass; a fine dust of asteroid bits that’s like silt that attaches to absolutely anything and, if it gets into your electronics, can cause some big problems. With Lockheed’s help, GM was able to recreate the moon’s surface and its sharp, menacing dust.

The automaker also spoke to Apollo-era astronauts about their experiences in space and on the moon, and what it was like driving the original lunar rover that still sits up there. This information helped tune the suspension, but is also key to ensuring the rover is boarding and driving. Even simple tasks require some problem solving before a car can be brought to the lunar surface.

Sketches for possible seat designs.
Enlarge / Sketches for possible seat designs.

Roberto Baldwin

The astronauts have limited freedom of movement in their suits, so the egress needs to accommodate the suit and backpack, and allow someone to move in a way that doesn’t result in a person hitting or catching on controls or structure. Even seat belts are a struggle thanks to the thick gloves.

#drove #lunar #vehicle #Lockheed #Martin

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