If you ask me what astronauts drive, I’ll tell you it’s a Corvette because that’s the car every Apollo spaceman had. But while they might have popped out for the groceries in a 60s ‘Vette, that’s not what they were shipped to the launchpad in. In the Apollo days, this job was left to a decked out Clark-Cortez motorhome. But now, NASA has appointed EV maker Canoo to dream up an astronaut transporter for the future.
And that’s a move that makes NASA one of the few organisations out there that actually thinks Canoo will be able to produce electric vehicles any time soon.
For context, Canoo hasn’t had the easiest ride in its quest to roll out a fleet of fully electric vehicles.
The firm burst onto the EV startup scene in 2017 with the goal of creating a cute, egg-shaped electric minivan and pickup truck. Both would be based on the same skateboard platform, and both looked like they could be quite excellent.
But the problems soon started rolling in. First, there was the tie up with Hyundai that was soon cancelled. Then, just days after announcing pricing for its cars, Canoo was investigated by the SEC after it merged with Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp.
Next, came the departure of its co-founder, Ulrich Kranz, who left to join Apple, and the firm finally admitted that it maybe wouldn’t have a car in production by 2022 when it announced that its factory wouldn’t be built until the following year.
So imagine our surprise when we heard that NASA had awarded the troubled startup a contract to begin making transport vehicles for astronauts!
Thankfully, for Canoo, NASA isn’t demanding a functional EV right away, but it does have a deadline for the startup to deliver. That’s because it needs the new astronaut transportation truck for the launch of its manned Artemis missions.
According to NASA’s latest schedule, this gives the firm more than a year to come up with its new astronaut transporter. Details in the Statement of Work submitted by NASA show that the transporter must be delivered by June 2023.
And that gives Canoo 15 months to come up with a truck that meets NASA’s needs. But, what are the requirements for a next-generation crew transporter?
Well, NASA says it must have space to seat eight, which will include four fully kitted-out astronauts, a driver, technician, flight operations director and a security agent. The truck also needs enough storage to fit all the astronauts’ equipment and personal effects, and a door measuring at least 24-inches to comfortably accommodate the crew and all their bits.
NASA also wants the transporter to have creature comforts like air conditioning and power connectors at each seat.
So far, so good. That doesn’t sound like too much to ask of a 21st century EV. But, as Canoo hasn’t yet rolled out a working, customer-ready vehicle, NASA might have some worries about its range and performance.
Thankfully, the space agency doesn’t have any particularly high demands in this regard.
That’s because the truck will only be used to transport astronauts from the suiting up facility to the launch pad. It will need to make this trip at least twice on each launch, once in the “dress rehearsal” and once for the real thing.
Because of this, NASA only needs the new Canoo EV to have a range of 80 km and asks that it can operate for at least eight hours a day. As Canoo initially claimed its production EVs would manage 402 km of range, this should be of no concern to the firm.
But obviously, making a real EV is a lot harder than developing renderings and a prototype.
And speaking of renderings, Canoo now has 30 days to develop its design and showcase it to the execs at NASA. It will then have a further 30 days to agree on a final, approved design and begin fabrication.
The finished electric astronaut transporter should then be delivered to NASA “no later than June 2023” ready for the Artemis launches. Time to get to work on that factory then, Canoo.