July 2, 2022

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EV Startup Canoo Is Building a Launchpad Shuttle Prototype for NASA

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The official astronaut transport vehicle of NASA could be a Canoo. No, not the boat—the battery-powered van. The bubbly EV startup was recently awarded a contract by the U.S. General Services Administration to build a vehicle that will usher astronauts to the launchpad as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

Now, this contrast isn’t for a flashy $1 Corvette like the astronauts of yesteryear got to drive. It’s actually meant for Canoo to come up with a large people hauler that can move about eight individuals along stretches of public roadway—something Canoo is fairly confident it’ll accomplish soon anyway.

As part of Canoo’s contract, it will be awarded $147,855 to build at least one vehicle—coined the Artemis Crew Transport Vehicle (CTV)—for NASA by June 2023. The official use of the CTV will be to cover an approximately 10-mile journey from the Operations and Checkout Building (O&C) to Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center. And if the launch isn’t successful, it will be responsible for bringing them back.

Per NASA’s technical requirements, the CTV must be a zero-emissions vehicle—either a battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, or fuel cell EV. It must also fit eight people, including a driver and four fully-suited NASA flight crew members, as well as have nearly 60 cubic feet of storage space—that’s about the same as a Mazda CX-5 with its rear seats folded flat.

It’ll need enough range to cover 50 miles and also be able to withstand an eight-hour duty day with the use of heat or, more importantly for the warm Florida climate, air conditioning. Finally—and this might be my favorite part of the entire deal—it’s gotta have a sick wrap or paint job that “inspire(s) the NASA agency and the public for future Artemis missions.”

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This is actually a pretty big break for Canoo. The five-year-old EV startup has been designing these futuristic, modular, pod-looking vehicles for consumers, though it really hasn’t had any traction outside of a government contract awarded in exchange for Canoo to build its manufacturing plant in Oklahoma. Now, sure, $147,855 isn’t a lot of money, but this is NASA. Remember the big stink everyone (including us) made when a pair of Rivian vehicles picked up Jeff Bezos from the landing site of the Blue Origin pod? Now picture a space-age egg transporting actual astronauts to actual space.

That being said, Canoo still has some troubles to work through if it wants to string together more successes. In 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission opened a “fact-finding inquiry” into Canoo over its SPAC merger. Additionally, two high-ranking vice presidents recently took their leave from Canoo in February, including the company’s VP of manufacturing and VP of investor relations. Not long before, two co-founders, the chief technology officer, and chief marketing officer also departed from the company.

Canoo anticipates launching its 350-horsepower “Lifestyle Vehicle” in late 2022, starting at $34,750. It also has an adventure-themed pickup in the works.

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