Electric Vehicles: Moon rover eclipses rest

By Paul Charman

Paul Charman reckons the LRV was the greatest electric car of them all

The Lunar Rover Vehicle.
The Lunar Rover Vehicle.

An Israeli electric car company last month declared bankruptcy, after gobbling US$850 million ($1.05 billion) in development finance.

Fewer than 1000 of the Renault-manufactured vehicles were sold by the Israeli company, Better Place, before it went belly-up.

This would make the Israeli car a contender for most expensive electric vehicle produced; but in my view a contender only.

Even at $850,000 a piece, the per-unit-cost of the Better Place car must have cost a fraction of what it cost to develop the three Lunar Rover Vehicles (LRVs) used on the moon between 1971 and 1972.

The Boeing Co Aerospace Group manufactured four of these "moon buggies" at its Kent Space Centre near Seattle, Washington.

We don't know precisely how much it cost to develop them, but since the Apollo programme consumed about US$100 billion in today's money, it must have been a terrifying figure.

The three LRVs were put to work on the moon vastly increasing the amount of terrain explored by astronauts aboard Apollo missions 15, 16 and 17.

The fourth - built for Apollo 18 - was cannibalised for spare parts after that mission was canned.

These vehicles were a design challenge as they needed to fold into a small package to fit within the tight, pie-shaped confines of the so-called "Quad 1" of the module flown to the lunar surface. After landing, the LRV had to unfold and deploy itself with minimal assistance from the astronauts.

Each wheel was individually powered by a quarter-hp electric motor (a total of 1hp) and the vehicle's top speed was about 13 km/h on a relatively smooth surface.

Two 36-volt batteries provided the power, although either battery could power all vehicle systems if required. The front and rear wheels had separate steering systems but, if one steering system failed, it could have been disconnected and the vehicle would have operated with the other.

Centralised controls allowed either astronaut to drive the vehicle.

Weighing about 209kg, the LRV could move more than twice its weight. It was designed to operate for 78 hours during the lunar day. It could make several exploration sorties up to a cumulative distance of 65km.

But because of limitations in the astronauts' portable life support system, the vehicle's range was restricted to a radius of 9.5km from the lunar module. This provided a walk-back capability, should the LRV become immobile.

The astronauts loved their LRVs, praising the design generously in books written following their adventures.

And, just in case somebody out there still imagines the Apollo missions were faked, we have lovely recent photos of LRVs resting in the lunar dust, where they were abandoned all those years ago.

The three moon buggies were left parked some distance from the lunar module, as they were fitted with remote-control cameras set up to capture the take-off.

It's possible to discern the condition in which astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt parked their buggy. A broken mudguard was repaired using folded maps and duct tape (though the maps were retrieved before the men left the moon) and the wheels have been turned to the left.

Let's hope somebody also pulled on the handbrake.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 28 Aug 2014 04:42:16 Processing Time: 545ms