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Lunar Cruiser is revving up and inspires future mobility

New Toyota technologies contributing to space exploration
As the Lunar Cruiser heads to the development phase, team Japan shares more details on the specifications and technologies the lunar craft will entail. The new features will also influence possible paths for future mobility and inspire innovation in automotive design. 

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Last July, Team Japan’s representatives for the Artemis programme held their first press briefing since the beginning of the project and presented the team structure behind the Lunar Cruiser development. Ken Yamashita, Toyota’s Project Head, explained Toyota is currently in the preliminary development phase of the Pressurized Rover - working together with MHI on system-level development- before beginning to work on the main vehicle in 2024.

Japan’s role in the Artemis project

Space exploration projects, such as the NASA’s Artemis programme, are founded in international cooperation. However, there is a competition element between the countries involved, with national prestige on the line. The nicknamed “Lunar Cruiser” therefore, has been undertaken by “Team Japan”, backed by numerous Japanese Companies - such as Toyota, JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Nevertheless, despite the competitive aspect, Fumiya Tsutsui, JAXA’s director of Space exploration, believes Japan’s role overseeing the crewed pressurized rover emerged naturally withing the Artemis Project.
“As the Artemis project kicked off and we exchanged ideas with NASA about the aspects that we would handle, the dialogue naturally moved in the direction of us taking on the pressurized rover. I think this partially came down to NASA’s high expectations based on Toyota’s track record and technical capabilities. The auto industry is one of Japan’s main strong points, and through Kibo [1], we have also built up space stay technology. I see this as the result of our strengths matching well with NASA’s needs.”
JAXA’s director of Space exploration Fumiya Tsutsui

Onboarding the Rover

The officially named “crewed pressurized rover” will feature a 7 square meters pressurized cabin to provide living space during the astronaut’s lunar exploration in search of water. The enclosed space will be air pressure controlled to create an Earth like environment. This means that, despite the unforgiving lunar environment, with one-sixth of Earth’s gravity and temperatures ranging from 120°C during the day to -170°C at night the people onboard will not need to wear extravehicular suits inside the vehicle. 

Unmatched solutions for unmatched conditions

The 6 meters long 5.2 meters wide, and 3.8 meters high pressurized rover’s body will entail four core technologies: regenerative fuel cells, automated off-road driving, off-road driving performance and user experience. Despite the moon’s two weeks days and nights2, the regenerative fuel cell (RFC) will allow the vehicle to establish an energy cycle for sustainable and long-term moon exploration through water electrolysis and fuel cells. Moreover, to increase off-road driving performance, the rover will be equipped with motors and independent steering mechanisms in each of its wheels.

Technology to trace future paths

Unprecedent automated off-road driving will be crucial to explore the moon’s surface. For the cruiser to locate itself in the moon, and define safety routes by identifying obstacles, new technologies are being developed. This includes radio navigation using a star tracker to estimate an attitude angle from star positions, and inertial navigation to estimate the speed and distance travelled from three-dimensional acceleration. The team has also built a full-scale cabin mock-up and is conducting several studies that mimic the living space to provide the astronauts with a comfortable and healthy lifestyle. 
We are developing off-road technology that will enable the rover to safely and efficiently traverse rocks and craters during lunar exploration. We believe the expertise gained in the process can benefit vehicles on Earth in the form of technologies that enable safe driving anywhere on the planet.”
Project head at Toyota Motor Corporation, Ken Yamashita

Inspiring innovation in automotive design

Toyota Lunar Cruiser has not yet made it to the moon, but it has for sure inspired our CALTY Design Research team in the US who surprised the world with the reveal of their Baby Lunar Cruiser (BLC) concept. Propelling its airless tires by in-wheel electric motors and being controlled by dual joysticks the BLC embodies a singular mix of adaptative technology and heritage design from the original FJ40 Land Cruiser. However, one of its most outstanding features is the exceptional outward visibility thanks to its protruding glass canopy and its augmented reality dashboard display.  
[1] Japanese Experiment Module where astronauts work while in orbit
[2] Lunar nights have a duration of 14 Earth nights.