Toyota, JAXA team up to study human-rated Moon rover
Having built a reputation of designing and building some of the most rugged and dependable vehicles to roam Earth, Toyota is now setting its sights on something a little more ambitious.
The Japanese automotive manufacturer recently announced it had entered into an agreement with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to study the possibility of partnering on the design of a pressurized lunar rover.
Though the notion of a car company designing a lunar vehicle might seem unusual, General Motors played a large role in developing the first—and so far the only—vehicle to transport astronauts across the lunar surface. While that was an American company supporting an American mission, Toyota is thinking on a global scale.
“The automotive industry has long done business with the concepts of ‘hometown’ and ‘home country’ largely in mind,” said Toyota President, Akio Toyoda, in the joint announcement. “However, from now on, in responding to such matters as environmental issues of global scale, the concept of ‘home planet,’ from which all of us come, will become a very important concept.”
While the rover may not launch until the end of the next decade, 2029, interest in the project at Toyota is already running high.
“As an engineer, there is no greater joy than being able to participate in such a lunar project by way of Toyota’s car-making and, furthermore, by way of our technologies related to electrified vehicles, such as fuel cell batteries, and our technologies related to automated driving,” said Shigeki Terashi, executive vice president for Toyota. “I am filled with great excitement.”
Though Earth-bound vehicles may have conquered many of the challenges of wild terrain, overlanding on the lunar surface raises the danger level several notches. Not only will the rover have to navigate through boulder-strewn fields and climb (or descend) steep slopes, but it will have to do so in an environment often lashed by radiation from the Sun and subject to extreme temperature changes.
The initial design for the pressurized, six-wheeled vehicle calls for a habitable volume of 460 cubic feet (13 cubic meters) of living space, capable of comfortably supporting two occupants. In the event of an emergency, however, the rover could sustain four crew members.
Having a range of more than 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometers), the notional vehicle would be powered by a combination of solar and fuel cell technologies, which the company hopes to be able to apply to Earthly pursuits.
“Contributing to Earth’s environment cannot be achieved without the widespread use of electrified vehicles,” Terashi said. “As a full-line manufacturer of electrified vehicles, and aiming for the widespread use of such vehicles, Toyota—going beyond only making complete vehicles—wants to provide electrification to its customers in various forms, such as through systems and technologies.”
Although the company wants to capitalize on rover technologies to support its terrestrial operations, Toyota and its president understand the importance of lunar vehicle design.
Concluding his thoughts on the project, Toyoda said, “…cars are used in all of Earth’s regions, and, in some regions, cars play active roles as partners for making sure that people come back alive. And I think that coming back alive is exactly what is needed in this project.”
Video courtesy of Toyota Motor Corporation
Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.