Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, has joined forces with Toyota for a planned astronaut moon landing. Toyota is designing a fuel-cell powered vehicle, called a lunar rover, for the mission.
Toyota is no stranger to space, although this will be the car maker’s first space exploration adventure. Toyota was behind the design for the small robot who flew to the space station in 2013. The robot, named Kirobo, was the first of its kind to speak from outer space.
The rover was revealed at a Tokyo event. The size of two microbuses, it will be large enough to allow two astronauts to live for several weeks. It has been designed to drive across the lunar surface for over 10,000 km (6,200 miles).
40 Days in a Lunar Rover
The Nikkei Asian Review reports that the lunar rover is slated to be used as soon as 2029, just in time to be used for several missions JAXA has planned to explore the moon’s southern pole from 2029 through 2034.
The astronauts will need to live in the rover for over forty days, according to the Nikkei Asian review. The crew will be able to leave the lunar rover for exploration before using it to drive to the next mission, thousands of kilometers away.
Shigeki Terashi, chief technology officer for Toyota understands that the challenges the rover will face will be difficult, especially as the terrain is rough with no paved roads. The design of the rover is going to be autonomous and will need to be sturdy enough to stand up to the moon’s environment, such as temperatures varying 300 C every day and night and high levels of radiation.
The vehicle’s enclosed body will be equipped with multiple functions that will allow constant mobility on the moon with a combination of manual operation, remote controlled operation, and autonomous driving.
Toyota’s SUVs have stood up to the toughest terrains across five continents, and Terashi considers the moon the sixth continent to master. Automakers are banking on the moon’s future commercial potential.
Consulting firm A.T. Kearney’s Masayasu Ishida revealed to the Nikkei Asian Review that partnerships between auto manufacturers and space agencies are a perfect pairing. Auto engineers have robotics, autonomous driving capabilities, and many other technologies that the companies responsible for rocket launches do not have.
JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa explained,
“Having Toyota join us in the challenge of international space exploration greatly strengthens our confidence. “Manned rovers with pressurized cabins are an element that will play an important role in full-fledged exploration and use of the lunar surface. For this, we would like to concentrate our country’s technological abilities and conduct technological studies. Through our joint studies going forward, we would like to put to use Toyota’s excellent technological abilities related to mobility, and we look forward to the acceleration of our technological studies for the realization of a manned, pressurized rover.”
This partnership is just one of several other lunar missions, including February’s SpaceX Israel’s launch of the Beresheet Robotic Lunar Lander and January’s successful mission to the far side of the moon with China’s Chang’e-4 probe.