Toyota is shooting for the moon – literally.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which is Japan’s version of NASA, and Toyota have announced plans to co-develop a manned, pressurized vehicle for exploring the moon. It will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
The new vehicle has been named the “Lunar Cruiser.” It’s a nod to Toyota’s famously rugged Earth-bound Land Cruiser vehicle.
JAXA said in a news release that it sees the Lunar Cruiser as “the starting point of a vision of a future lunar surface-based society.” While that may sound premature, the Lunar Cruiser is how JAXA plans to explore the moon’s north and south poles, the agency said.
The Lunar Cruiser will operate primarily from hydrogen fuel cells. However, some energy will be gleaned from solar panels. Solar rays have no atmosphere to penetrate on the moon. Therefore, they are more intense on the moon surface.
Engineers at Toyota have relied on simulations to work out powertrain heat management in an airless environment. They have also tested new tire designs, meant to hold up to the sharp dusting of the moon’s surface.
Full-scale (and virtual) models are being employed to mockup the Lunar Cruiser’s cabin layout. It’s expected to come together in full prototype form later this year. Testing of the rover’s sub-assemblies is planned to begin next spring. That will lead to the construction of a full-scale working model in 2022.
By 2024, an engineering model will be designed, built, and evaluated. That will prepare the development team to build the flight model, the one that will actually head to the moon. The final vehicle is scheduled to be assembled in 2027.
Here are some renderings of the Lunar Cruiser from Toyota.