NASA's Next Lunar EV
An electric vehicle will take part in the U.S. Presidential inaugural this day. Dubbed the Chariot, it will be the predecessor of a multi-purpose, all-terrain vehicle designed to operate in the harsh environment of the lunar surface where temperatures swing from - 243 degrees C in the shade to over 200 degrees C in the light.
But on January 20, 2009, it must simply navigate the drive from Capitol Hill to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Driven by Astronaut Mike Gernhardt, with Astronaut Rex Walheim walking in a Lunar Space Suit, it will participate in the U.S. presidential parade.
With no atmospheric oxygen on the moon, the six-wheeled, twelve-tired rover will be electrically-driven, powered by lithium-ion batteries, charged by an inductive charger NASA bought off of eBay that was once on a General Motors EV1 electric car. The Chariot's regenerative braking system is modeled after those found in Toyota, Ford's and GM's full hybrids.
The 6,000 pound rover is driven by twelve, 3-hp electric motors, two on each wheel. Its active, electric suspension system insures that all wheels remain on the ground, a critical element in the one-sixth gravity of the lunar surface.
In the accompanying EV World Future In Motion podcast -- available to EV World premium subscribers -- NASA branch chief Dan Harrison talks with EV World publisher Bill Moore about the successor of the three Apollo Mission rovers that successfully operated on the moon nearly 40 years ago.
NASA's goal now is to return to the moon by 2020, this time to establish a permanent lunar base at the south pole near the Shackleton Crater where water is thought to exist frozen below the regolith. According to Harrison, this is NASA's current schedule for the development of the Chariot, which must double as an all-terrain exploration vehicle, a backhoe, a bulldozer and a "mini-Winnebago."
2010: "Flight-lite" version of Chariot II, still designed for earth gravity (G1).
2011: One-sixth gravity version for vibration, radiation and astronaut testing
2012: Development of contract requirement
2017-18: Construction of flight version
2020: Launch to the moon on Constellation spacecraft.
After a successful landing on the south pole, robotic versions of the Chariot will prepare the surface for installation of a nuclear power plant, including trenches for cables and perms for protection from micro-meteroids.
When the contract to build the Chariot is let sometime in the middle of the next decade, Harrison noted that carmakers like GM and Ford would be considered, as well as the prime contractor of the first Lunar Rovers, Boeing. NASA may also opt to build it itself.
As to the question of why return to the moon, Harrison gives his personal perspective, describing it as a stepping stone to Mars, as well as a wonderful scientific platform, especially for astronomy. There is also the potential of mining Helium 3 for clean nuclear power generation on Earth. But more importantly, from his perspective, is that returning to the moon is a statement about how you feel about the future of humanity. Do we remain in our cradle or do we move upward and outward into the solar system?
As the Chariot rolls down Pennsylvania, pausing to salute the new President, it will symbolize a change in perspective about our view of both America's future and that of all mankind.