JAXA has reached an agreement with Toyota to develop a next-generation pressurized lunar vehicle for crewed use.
Joint studies on the development of the “space mobility” concept began in May 2018 with the most recent agreement reached to accelerate work. Teams were given strict mission requirements of a pressurised vehicle capable of sustaining a crew for an extended period with a lunar-surface cruising range of more than 10,000 kilometres.
“Lunar gravity is one-sixth of that on Earth,” said JAXA Vice President Koichi Wakata. 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.”
In a press release, JAXA revealed that the rover, as its currently designed, is 6 meters (19.6 feet) long, 5.2 meters (17 feet) wide, and 3.8 meters (12.4 feet) tall, or approximately the size of two microbuses. It will feature a living space of 13 cubic meters (459 cubic feet) and be capable of accommodating two people under regular operations and four in an emergency.
This isn’t the first time an automotive manufacturer has partnered with a space agency to develop a lunar vehicle. In the 1970s, General Motors worked closely with NASA and Boeing to produce the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) for the Apollo program. Three LRVs were built and launched aboard Apollo 15, 16 and 17 between 1971 and 1972.
The LRV is, however, the Model A in a world where Toyota’s “space mobility” vehicle would be a Tesla Model 3. The LRVs were not capable of recharging, were not pressurised and were good for at best 30 to 40 kilometres.