The Toyota Urban Cruiser might be a neat little car, but for something out of this world, look no further than the Lunar Cruiser. That is the nickname chosen for a manned pressurised lunar rover, which is currently under joint research by Toyota and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
According to Toyota, the name was chosen because it provides a “familiar feeling” to the people involved in the project as well as the general public. Referencing the Land Cruiser, the lunar rover is expected to be of quality, durable, and reliable – just like the SUV – while fulfilling its mission for people to “come back alive,” which is no easy feat since it will traverse the harsh environment of the moon’s surface.
The Japanese carmaker’s involvement in the project is to lend its expertise on fuel cell technology, something that it has quite a bit of experience with. This form of mobility is deemed necessary for human exploration activities on the lunar surface, as there is a limited amount of energy that can be transported to the moon.
With that in mind, the Lunar Cruiser is being developed to provide a cruising range of more than 10,000 km, further supported by its large solar panel. Toyota and JAXA signed a joint research agreement to work on the project on June 13 last year, and both parties have already begun manufacturing test parts for each technological element, and the prototype rover itself, during Toyota’s fiscal year 2020.
In fiscal year 2021, the project will also see simulations being carried out to confirm power and heat dissipation performance while driving, the manufacture and assessment of prototype tyres, and the use of virtual reality and full-scale models to consider the layout of equipment in the cabin of the Lunar Cruiser.
Unlike building a car, a lunar rover will take a bit more time, as the tentative plan is aiming for a launch in 2029. Before that, from 2022, a 1:1 scale prototype rover will be manufactured and evaluated, followed by engineering and flight models from 2024. From 2027, the project will focus on building and quality testing the flight model that will be sent up.