NASA wants a new electric Astrovan to compete with SpaceX's and Blue Origin's rides

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NASA is looking to get back into the #vanlife.

The space agency has issued a request for information (RFI) asking for ideas for a Artemis Crew Transportation Vehicle to succeed the iconic “Astrovan” used during the Space Shuttle era.

The Astrovan was last used in 2011.

The Astrovan was last used in 2011.
(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

NASA is preparing to begin sending Astronauts back into space on official government missions as part of the Artemis Moon landing program in the coming years, but first it needs a way to get them to the launch pad.

The previous Astrovan, which is a coverted Airstream Excelle RV technically known as the Astronaut Transfer Vehicle that entered service in 1983 and has been on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center since the end of the Shuttle program in 2011 alongside its predecessor, a Clark-Cortez motorhome that was used from Appolo 7 through the Space Shuttle Challenger’s maiden flight in 1983.

Apollo and early Space Shuttle astronauts were driven to the launch pad in a converted Clark-Cortez motorhome.

Apollo and early Space Shuttle astronauts were driven to the launch pad in a converted Clark-Cortez motorhome.
(Frontiers/Getty Images)

The RFI calls for a vehicle with the capacity for on driver, four suited-up Flight Crew Members, and three additional staff. There also needs to be room for six equipment bags, cooling units, and two cubic feet per passenger for miscellany. At least two large doors for entry/egress and emergency exit are also required.

One big difference compared to the old van is that the new one must have a zero-emissions powertrain that’s either a plug-in hybrid, battery electric, or fuel cell electric.

NASA’s commercial space partner SpaceX currently uses an electric Tesla Model X to ferry crews to its launch pad, while Jeff Bezos took to the maiden Blue Origin launch in Texas in an SUV built by Rivian, which is backed by Amazon.

Boeing unveiled its own Airstream/Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based Astrovan II in 2019, which it plans to use during commercial missions of its Starliner capsule, which has been beset with delays.

Boeing has yet to use its Astrovan II.

Boeing has yet to use its Astrovan II.
(Boeing)

Interestingly, NASA said would also consider an electric overhaul of the historic Airstream that would give the project a retro-futuristic vibe.

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Responses are due by October 25. No timeline or budget for the program is mentioned, but NASA is aiming to send the first Artemis program astronauts into space by the end of 2023 and onto the Moon by 2024.

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