DARPA Lunar Railway System Contract Awarded to Northrop Grumman

Backed by DARPA funding, Northrop Grumman is embarking on a mission to lay down tracks across the Moon.

The aerospace and defense company has won a DARPA contract to bake out a concept for a lunar railway system.

The project is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s broader LunA-10 study aiming to establish sustainable infrastructure on the Moon by 2035. As envisioned, the lunar railroad network would transport humans, supplies, and resources for commercial applications.

It would connect outposts, mines, and research facilities, supporting activities ranging from mining, tourism, scientific research, and even manufacturing.

Chris Adams, vice president and general manager of strategic space systems at Northrop Grumman, said in a news release, “With our proven experience in the integration of complex systems and commercial autonomous vehicles, we will continue to create lasting change for a sustainable space ecosystem.”

As part of the study, Northrop Grumman will

  • Identify the technological and logistical challenges of building a lunar rail network
  • Develop prototypes and simulations to test the railway system’s design and performance under lunar conditions
  • Explore the use of specialized lunar robots and autonomous systems for construction and maintenance tasks

However it’s done, installing a transportation network on the moon will present unprecedented challenges.

With a surface as large as Africa, setting up a lunar railway system is like installing a continent-wide transportation network in the harshest, most alien environment imaginable. Rapid advancements in robotics and automation could help overcome obstacles like extreme temperatures and abrasive regolith.

The 10-Year Lunar Architecture capability study was announced in 2023.

At the time, Dr Michael “Orbit” Nayak, a DARPA program manager in its Strategic Technology Office, said the project aims to accelerate progress of technologies used by the government and businesses to unlock the lunar economy.

“A large paradigm shift is coming in the next 10 years for the lunar economy” he said.