Toyota wants to go to the moon
The Lunar Cruiser will boldly go where no Toyota has gone before!
You may have heard some news last year that Toyota had come to an agreement with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to collaborate on developing a pressurised rover that could be used as part of manned missions to the moon. An official name wasn't announced when the collaboration was first revealed to the world, but Toyota has now revealed what it's going to call the intrepid new machine. Perhaps quite fitting to both the heritage of the Toyota brand and its intended purpose, it'll be called the Lunar Cruiser.
As you might expect, this comes with its own whole set of challenges that are totally different from building something that's a bit more earthbound. For a start, there's no atmosphere on the moon. That means that an internal combustion engine is no good at all. You also can't exactly easily refuel or recharge a vehicle in space either. As a result, Toyota decided the best powertrain for the Lunar Cruiser would be a hydrogen fuel cell-powered system with huge tanks to make sure that the rover could have up to 10,000 kilometres of range on the lunar surface.
Another big challenge is the lunar surface itself. The Lunar Cruiser needs to be able to nagivate some pretty treacherous, rocky terrain. Moon dust is also pretty noxious stuff, as the Apollo astronauts learned when they went to the moon all those years ago; it's made up of shards of silica that may look like a harmless fine powder but it cuts into everything it makes contact with like glass. Whilst I can't seem to find any details on how Toyota and JAXA will be designing the Lunar Cruiser to cope with it, it's pretty clear from the official renderings that it's going to have some seriously huge tyres and beefy suspension to deal with the big lumps and bumps that'll inevitably come with lunar exploration.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of all is the fact that the crew will have to live in the Lunar Cruiser during missions. Whilst it's ideally designed to occupy two people, it'll potentially have to house up to four in an emergency. All of those occupants will require full living facilities, meaning that the Lunar Cruiser is going to have to be pretty large. I'm guessing that the huge solar array shown in the renderings are a part of accomodating for that, as in a hostile environment like the one on the moon any self-contained vehicle like the Lunar Cruiser is going to have to be pretty much self-sufficient!
So, why choose the name Lunar Cruiser? Well, it's a familiar name amongst the public. That's Toyota's reasoning anyway at least. It's certainly a very cool name, anyway! We have the Land Cruiser on earth, so why not have the Lunar Cruiser on the moon?
If all goes well, Toyota is expecting the Lunar Cruiser to touch down on the moon in the second half of this decade, hopefully as part of Japan's first-ever manned mission there. With the ever-growing resurgence of interest in space exploration and space technology thanks to the efforts of companies like Space X, it's something that the public (especially in Japan) will be very engaged with and I for one will be very interested to see what the final vehicle looks like when it's finally with us in the flesh!