Toyota and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced an agreement Tuesday to “consider the possibility of collaborating on international space exploration,” which, as far as agreements go, seems pretty soft. Hell, I’ll “consider the possibility of collaborating on international space exploration” right now, for free, with pretty much anyone. Still, Toyota does seem to have been doing more than considering, since they have a design for a pressurized, fuel-cell powered Lunar Camry.
Okay, they’re not actually calling it a Camry, but it is an impressive-looking design for a six-wheeled, fully enclosed and pressurized rover that would have a lunar-surface cruising range of 10,000 km/6,213 miles. That’s a hell of a lot of lunar miles.
This sort of range is important because the vehicle that JAXA and Toyota have been studying and conceptualizing together is really more of a lunar camper than just a rover, like the old Apollo rovers.
The vehicle imagined here is something that, as the press release states,
“...has an enclosed body equipped with functions and space that enable astronauts to live in the vehicle for fixed periods without wearing space suits, that allows ingress and egress while wearing space suits, and that makes sustainable mobility on the surface of a moon or planet by way of astronaut operation, remote operation, or autonomous driving possible.”
Toyota President Akio Toyoda also added something about the goals of the project, something you wouldn’t necessarily think would need to be overtly stated:
“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 coming back alive is exactly what is needed in this project.”
Uhh, good point, I guess? Coming back alive from any drive in any kind of vehicle, anywhere, I think is pretty much a huge plus.
The Toyota rover’s front end design is sort of reminiscent of another Toyota people enjoyed coming back alive from, the FJ Cruiser:
I also like that the rover appears to have turn indicators there, a very optimistic addition considering the fairly spare amount of lunar ground traffic at the moment.
The rover is planned to be about 18 feet long, 15 feet wide, and nearly 12 feet tall, with an interior volume of 459 cubic feet, enough for two astronauts, or four in emergency situations.
Even though it’s fuel cell-powered, renderings do show a large deployable solar panel as well, which is never a bad idea, since sunlight is free and power for auxiliary systems or topping off storage batteries or whatever is prudent.
The hydrogen and oxygen tanks for the fuel cell system (and possibly other consumables) seem to be stored in trapezoidal-shaped modules that load in through the rear:
Fuel cells do produce drinkable water as a byproduct, though it’s not clear if enough would be generated for the use of the crew. Possibly!
While this is all just speculative at the moment, JAXA and Toyota do have a rough timeline in mind:
“At JAXA, we are studying various scenarios as well as technologies that will be applied to specific space missions. Manned, pressurized rovers will be an important element supporting human lunar exploration, which we envision will take place in the 2030s. We aim at launching such a rover into space in 2029.”
There’s a lot to be done before that mission happens, of course, but a pressurized exploration rover is never a bad idea, so have at it, space-explorers. I’m sure Toyota will also be interested in this concept as a way to actually sell some fuel-cell vehicles like their Mirai, which has been selling so slowly I’m sure the moon seems like a pretty viable new market.