The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Toyota Motor Corporation (Toyota) have reached agreement to further cooperate on and accelerate their ongoing joint study*1 of a manned, pressurized lunar rover*2 that employs fuel cell electric vehicle technologies.
Mobility is necessary for human exploration activities on the lunar surface. Even with the limited amount of energy that can be transported to the moon, the pressurized rover would have a total lunar-surface cruising range of more than 10,000 km.
International space exploration, aiming to achieve sustainable prosperity by expanding the domain of human activity and giving rise to intellectual properties, has its sights set on the moon and Mars.
To achieve the goals of such exploration, coordination between robotic missions, such as the recent successful touchdown by the asteroid probe Hayabusa2 on the asteroid Ryugu, and human missions, such as those involving humans using pressurized rovers to conduct activities on the moon, are essential, says Toyota.
When it comes to challenging missions such as lunar or Martian exploration, various countries are competing in advancing their technologies, while also sometimes advancing their cooperative efforts.
JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa said today: “At JAXA, we are pursuing international coordination and technological studies toward Japan’s participation in international space exploration. We aim to contribute through leading Japanese technologies that can potentially generate spin-off benefits. Having Toyota join us in the challenge of international space exploration greatly strengthens our confidence.”
Also, at a symposium held today in Tokyo, JAXA Vice President Koichi Wakata and Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi held a talk session, excerpts from which are shown below.
JAXA Vice President Koichi Wakata
“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.
“Lunar gravity is one-sixth of that on Earth. Meanwhile, the moon has a complex terrain with craters, cliffs, and hills. Moreover, it is exposed to radiation and temperature conditions that are much harsher than those on Earth, as well as an ultra-high vacuum environment. For wide ranging human exploration of the moon, a pressurized rover that can travel more than 10,000 km in such environments is a necessity. Toyota’s ‘space mobility’ concept meets such mission requirements. Toyota and JAXA have been jointly studying the concept of a manned, pressurized rover since May of 2018.
“Thus far, our joint study, has examined a preliminary concept for a manned, pressurized rover system, and we have identified the technological issues that must be solved. Going forward, we want to utilize Toyota’s and JAXA’s technologies, human resources, and knowledge, among others, to continuously solve those issues.
“International space exploration is a challenge to conquer the unknown. To take up such a challenge, we believe it is important to gather our country’s technological capabilities and engage as ‘Team Japan’. Through our collaboration with Toyota as the starting point, we can further expand the resources of ‘Team Japan’ in the continued pursuit of international space exploration.”
Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi
“As an engineer, there is no greater joy than being able to participate in such a lunar project by way of Toyota’s car-making and, furthermore, by way of our technologies related to electrified vehicles, such as fuel cell batteries, and our technologies related to autonomous and automated driving. I am filled with great excitement.
“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 the project being discussed with JAXA.
“Toyota believes that achieving a sustainable mobility society on Earth will involve the coexistence and widespread use of electrified vehicles, such as hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles, and fuel cell electric vehicles. For electrification, fuel cell batteries represent an indispensable technology.
“Fuel cell electric vehicles have the ability to emit reduced amounts of harmful substances, such as particulate matter, that are found in the air they take in. As such, they are characterized by having so-called ‘minus emissions’*3. We want to further improve on this characteristic.
“Contributing to Earth’s environment cannot be achieved without the widespread use of electrified vehicles. As a full-line manufacturer of electrified vehicles, and aiming for the widespread use of such vehicles, Toyota―going beyond only making complete vehicles―wants to provide electrification to its customers in various forms, such as through systems and technologies.
“Our joint studies with JAXA are a part of this effort. Being allowed to be a member of ‘Team Japan’, we would like to take up the challenge of space.”
Concept Rover Specifications
- Length: 6.0 m; width: 5.2 m; height: 3.8 m (the size of two microbuses)
- Living space: 13m3
- Capable of accommodating two people (four people in an emergency)
*1 A conceptual study on a manned, pressurized rover, jointly pursued by Toyota and JAXA since May 2018 based on a cooperation agreement
*2 As envisioned in this project, a vehicle that 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.
*3 Fuel cell electric vehicles reduce particulate matter in the air they take in by way of a filter and supply the resulting cleaner air to their fuel cell batteries, emitting only water and surplus air.