US space agency picks Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost and Venturi Astrolab to create designs for lunar rover.

NASA has awarded contracts to three companies to develop vehicles for the first crewed missions to the Moon in more than five decades.

Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost and Venturi Astrolab – based in Texas, Colorado and California, respectively – were chosen to create designs for the lunar rover under a contract worth up to $4.6bn, NASA said on Wednesday.

NASA plans to pick one of the companies to carry out a test run for their Lunar Terrain Vehicle before the arrival of the crew for the Artemis 5 mission scheduled for 2029.

The US space agency said the winning bid will be “able to handle the extreme conditions at the Moon’s south pole” and “feature advanced technologies for power management, autonomous driving, and state-of-the-art communications and navigation systems.”

“We look forward to the development of the Artemis generation lunar exploration vehicle to help us advance what we learn at the Moon,” Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement.

“This vehicle will greatly increase our astronauts’ ability to explore and conduct science on the lunar surface while also serving as a science platform between crewed missions.”

Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist at NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said the rover would allow astronauts to “travel to locations we might not otherwise be able to reach on foot, increasing our ability to explore and make new scientific discoveries.”

“With the Artemis crewed missions, and during remote operations when there is not a crew on the surface, we are enabling science and discovery on the Moon year around,” he said.

The Artemis missions, named after the sister of Apollo in Greek mythology, aim to return humans to the Moon for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972.

Under the programme, NASA plans to establish the first long-term presence on the Moon and lay the groundwork for future missions to Mars.

Artemis 3, the first crewed mission, is scheduled to land in 2026.

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