The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Toyota Motor Corporation have christened their manned, pressurised rover ‘Lunar Cruiser’ as the collaborative space exploration project builds towards a planned launch in the latter half of the 2020s.
The agreement between JAXA and Toyota concerns the continuing study of developing a manned, pressurised rover that employs fuel cell electric vehicle technologies. Such a form of mobility is deemed necessary for human exploration activities on the moon surface.
The Lunar Cruiser name is a nod towards Land Cruiser, Toyota’s iconic SUV, which will be celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2021. The decision was made based on the quality, durability and reliability expected of the pressurised lunar rover – matching those values long held sacrosanct by Toyota for its unrivaled, all-wheel drive utility vehicle.
Even with the limited amount of energy that can be transported to the moon, Lunar Cruiser would have a total lunar surface cruising range of more than 10,000km (approximately 6200 miles).
The aim of international space exploration is to achieve sustainable prosperity for humankind by expanding our domain of activity and giving rise to intellectual properties. To achieve these exploration goals, it is essential to have co-ordination between robotic missions.
Examples of this include the recent successful touchdown by the Hayabusa2 probe on the asteroid Ryugu, and human missions using pressurised rovers for activities on the moon. But when it comes to challenging missions, such as lunar or Martian exploration, various countries are competing in advancing their technologies, and also their co-operative efforts.
JAXA president Hiroshi Yamakawa said: “We are pursuing international co-ordination and technological studies towards Japan’s participation in international space exploration. We aim to contribute through leading Japanese technologies, which can potentially generate spin-off benefits. Having Toyota join us in the challenge of international space exploration greatly strengthens our confidence.
“Manned rovers with pressurised cabins are an element that will play an important role in fully 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, we would like to put Toyota’s excellent technological abilities related to mobility to use. We look forward to the acceleration of our technological studies for the realisation of a manned, pressurised rover.”
Toyota president Akio Toyoda said: “The automotive industry has long done business with concepts of ‘home town’ and ‘home country’ largely in mind. 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.
“Going beyond the frameworks of countries or regions, I believe that our industry, which is constantly thinking about the role it should fulfil, shares the same aspirations as international space exploration.
“Furthermore, 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 is exactly what is needed in this project. I am extremely happy that, for this project, expectations have been placed on the thus-far developed durability and driving performance of Toyota vehicles and on our fuel cell environmental technologies.”
Pressurised rover concept proposal
Lunar Cruiser has a proposed size that is approximately equivalent to two minibuses: 6.0m long, 5.2m wide and 3.8m tall. It offers 13m3 of living space, which is designed to offer comfortable accommodation for two people, or four in an emergency.
Space Frontier Fund
With the aim to support human resources and technology development in space-related industries, in June 2020 the SPARX Innovation for the Future Company announced a ‘Space Frontier Fund’ to foster Japanese space companies and contribute to technological innovation. Toyota is one of the investors in the new fund.