A Los Angeles-based company has unveiled a next-generation lunar rover prototype that moves as fast as NASA’s old “lunar car” but is designed to perform multiple missions.
Venturi Astrolab, founded by a space robotics expert, has released photos and videos showing the Flexible Logistics and Research Vehicle (FLEX) driving the vehicle through the rugged California desert near Death Valley National Park during a five-day field test in December.
Astrolab leaders said the four-wheel drive FLEX rover is designed for use in NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the moon as early as 2025 and establish a long-term lunar colony as a precursor to sending astronauts to Mars.
Unlike the Apollo-era lunar vehicles of the 1970s or the current generation robotic Mars rover designed for special missions and experiments, the FLEX is designed as a multi-purpose vehicle that can be operated manually or remotely.
Built around a modular system inspired by traditional container shipping, the company says FLEX is versatile enough to be used for research, cargo delivery, site construction, and other logistics tasks on the Moon.
“For humanity to truly live and operate sustainably beyond Earth, there must be efficient and affordable transportation all the way from the launch pad to the final outpost,” Jaret Matthews, founder and CEO of Astrolab, said in a statement announcing the launch.
While Apollo’s vehicle is driven by two astronauts sitting as if they are in a car, FLEX drivers stand behind and operate the vehicle with a joystick, and the vehicle weighs 500 kg. The vehicle, which can travel two astronauts for eight hours with its solar-powered batteries, is resistant to the cold in space.