Video Shows Toyota's Planned Moon Rover With 18 Times the Range of Model S
Toyota is one of the most popular car brands worldwide, and it hopes to recreate that same automotive magic in space with a six-wheeled lunar rover that looks like the transport vehicles in Duncan Jones’s Moon (2009). In March, the company announced that it’s joining forces with Japan’s space agency — JAXA — to build and launch a new electric buggy into space by 2029.
The vehicle is still in its early, conceptual stages and the both Toyota and JAXA have yet to decide on a name or finalized design. But a few key design elements have already been decided upon: The pair want it to both run on clean-energy and be capable of extremely lengthy lunar road trips. In a press release, Toyota stated it’s aiming for a cruising range of 6,214 miles, only 572 miles short of the moon’s total circumference, and more than double the width of the United States.
For comparison, the Tesla Model S offers 335 miles of range, and is currently the industry leader. Toyota and JAXA’s rover would supply more than 18 times the range.
Eventually, the hope is that this will be made possible by improved versions of the same Toyota fuel-cell technology that currently gives the 2019 Toyota Mirai an EPA-estimated 312-mile driving range. These cells are powered completely by hydrogen and don’t give off any carbon dioxide emissions. Hydrogen is also readily available in certain areas of the moon, which would make refueling the vehicle much simpler and cleaner than having to transport fossil fuels in to space.
“Fuel cells, which use clean power-generation methods, emit only water,” stated Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi in a statement. “Because of their high energy density, they can provide a lot of energy, making them especially suited for the project being discussed with JAXA.”
On the outside, Toyota explains that the rover will be about the size of two Toyota HiAces but it will only be able to fit two astronauts on the inside, or four in the event of an emergency. The reason for the close quarters? JAXA plans to heavily armor the outside to fend off the lunar elements, and to pressurize the cabin to ensure a safe exploratory mission.
Like many other space agencies and companies, JAXA and Toyota see tackling moon travel as a stepping stone toward one day traversing the Martian surface. NASA, SpaceX, China, Israel, and India have all renewed their lunar exploration efforts within the past few months in preparation for future Mars missions.
NASA has already begun initial steps toward constructing its Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway by 2024, which will serve as a check point for astronauts on their way to the moon’s surface. It has also began taking bids for landing vehicles that will ferry space travelers to and from the Gateway.
2024 is around the same timeframe that JAXA has for getting Toyota’s space buggy onto the lunar surface. If these timeframes continue to seem realistic, then the moon’s surface could begin to be dotted with illuminated human settlements within the decade.