The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has joined forces with Toyota, a well-known carmaker, to build a pressurized self-driving rover. JAXA is hoping to launch the vehicle to the moon as soon as 2029. Since there’s no atmosphere, a ton of radiation, and harsh temperature conditions, JAXA argues that this space mobility vehicle is necessary. “Manned, pressurized rovers will be an important element supporting human lunar exploration, which we envision will take place in the 2030s,” said JAXA Vice President Koichi Wakata.
The Toyota Rover
Toyota has made robots for years that are designed to perform tasks such as housework and helping people who have difficulty walking. Now for the first time ever, this production giant is making its mark in space travel. They are ready to conquer space and JAXA is determined to make that happen. JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa said in a statement, “through our joint studies going forward, we would like to put to use Toyota’s excellent technological abilities related to mobility, and we look forward to the acceleration of our technological studies for the realization of a manned, pressurized rover.” The vehicle will be able to carry two passengers or four in an emergency. It will be able to travel more than 6,200 miles (10,000 km) across the lunar surface. The concept for the vehicle is about twice as wide and twice as tall as a 2019 Toyota 4Runner SUV. You may be wondering how a giant like this could be powered especially on the lunar surface. Well, according to JAXA’s plan, power will come from an array of replaceable fuel cells which will be charged over time using foldable solar panels like the panels on each of the Mars rovers. The Executive Vice President of Toyota, Shigeki Terashi, stated in a press release that “fuel cells, which use clean power-generation methods, emit only water, and, because of their high energy density, they can provide a lot of energy, making them especially suited for this project.” Many astronauts believe in this project as well including Koichi Wakata who has served as the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station who also stated that although it’s an extremely challenging project, they still have high hopes for Toyota’s technology.
Future Space Exploration
The announcement comes at a time when China is ramping up its own plans for space travel, thanks to an annual budget of $8 billion, second only to the U.S. They’ve already made a world-first landing on the far side of the moon in January, now they are planning on building a solar power station in space and a Mars probe that is likely to happen before the end of this decade. Tesla Inc. co-founder Elon Musk’s SpaceX docked a craft at the International Space Station less than a week before JAXA and Toyota’s announcement. One of the most exciting things about the JAXA and Toyota joint announcement is that it aims to provide a lot more freedom for the lunar astronauts in the vehicle. Since it is roughly the size of two minibusses, the Toyota-JAXA lunar rover will be six meters long and have 13 square meters of habitable space. Astronauts will even be able to take off their space suits inside the vehicle, allowing for comfortable conditions while they explore the lunar surface. A lot has changed over the last few years regarding space travel, but this is one of the biggest steps ever. It has been nearly 50 years since Apollo 11 so it’s time for us to go back to the lunar surface. There’s more to discover and a lot of questions that need to be answered. This future technology, even if it was made by a well-known car company, brings hope about being able to live on the moon closer than ever before.