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Toyota’s Lunar Cruiser: from Earth to the moon and back

Toyota contributes to the NASA's Artemis Programme to expand human presence in space
Toyota is collaborating with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to develop the Lunar Cruiser as part of the Artemis Programme. Its launch in 2029 is expected to expand the exploration area for crewed and uncrewed space missions.

The Artemis Programme

The Artemis programme is the first step in the next era of human exploration. Together with commercial and international partners such as JAXA, NASA expects to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon for missions to Mars. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Toyota are also contributing to the programme. MHI will do so through the development of the LUPEX (Lunar Polar Expedition), and Toyota through its joint development of a manned lunar rover with JAXA. With this “Lunar Cruiser” Toyota expects to apply the fine-tuned technologies used in the Moon’s extreme conditions back on Earth. 

Life on the Moon

Although driving on the Moon is certainly exciting, the mission conditions require a great effort to make the rover a comfortable living space, not just a reliable vehicle. The crew will have to live on-board, in a confined space over the monochromatic moon surface for approximately a month. This brings up two main challenges: the large mental strain that might affect the crew’s work efficiency and motivation, and the difficulty to make out a travel path. Therefore, the technologies to be incorporated will target to provide the best user experience, driving performance and automated off-road driving.

Back to Earth

The technologies Toyota is designing for the Lunar Cruiser’s missions include, among others, roll-over prevention on the moon’s uncharted surface, radio signal navigation, safe driving route generation, an intuitive driving control, driving assistance with a superimposed display, and a spacious-feeling interior design with capability for 2 up to 4 crew members. All learnings will favour safe driving on all kinds of terrain on Earth too. Other possible applications could be the remote and automated scanning of disaster areas or goods transportation in dangerous zones.
“Because driving for 30 days straight would be extremely demanding, certain parts will be automated, with the astronauts taking over manually in cases when they need to try to escape a particularly difficult situation…Just like the GuardianTM, the automated driving is set up under the concept of partnering with the human driver to ensure safety.”
said Mr. Takao Sato, former Lunar Rover Project Manager [1]

Space exploration through cooperation

The rover will incorporate Toyota’s Regenerative Fuel Cell (RFC) to get through the lunar nights[2]. Via water electrolysis, the system will enable high-efficiency hydrogen production using sunlight to provide energy at night. The vehicle’s tyres, developed by Bridgestone Corporation, will be made from metal as rubber would be useless in the harsh moon conditions. Furthermore, the lunar surface data that MHI’s LUPEX is expected to collect from its investigation on the Moon in 2025 will also serve to develop the rover.
“There is no air, the temperature in a given location can range from minus 170°C when in shade to 120°C in the sun, a difference that is unimaginable on Earth. Gravity is one-sixth of that here, and of course we have never driven cars in such low gravity. There is also the issue of exposure to radiation, so we can’t use rubber or resin parts.”
said Mr. Yukito Ohmura, Toyota’s Lunar Rover developer

Another step towards carbon neutral mobility

The Lunar Cruiser innovations and pursuit of developing circular systems using sunlight, water and H2 on the Moon are also expected to contribute to our goal of achieving carbon neutrality on planet Earth. For example, being able to provide sustainable energy to remote villages or refugee camps in war zones and to use these technologies for disaster evacuation centres and marine vessels. Every step towards mobility innovation and alternative and sustainable fuel solutions is a step towards developing towns where people live happily with accessible, safe, and sustainable mobility for everyone.  
“We might have begun with the idea of a vehicle for traveling on the Moon’s surface, then we started looking at, for example, using hydrogen as a fuel. If the vehicle is to run on hydrogen, we need water to make that hydrogen. If the Moon’s surface contains water, we can use this to create a hydrogen society, which could lead to building cities. This idea embraces the same approach as Woven City; as we tackle many different aspects while moving forward, each one feels like a separate project, but I think that, beneath the surface, all of these pieces are actually linked together.”
Shigeki Terashi, director and executive fellow at Toyota [3]
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[1] Lunar Rover development project is currently being planned under a different project leader, Ken Yamashita-san.
[2] Lunar nights have a duration of 14 Earth nights. 
[3] Quotes used for this story were obtained from this Toyota Times article.