JAXA & Toyota Agree on Taking Up the Challenge of International Space Exploration

Conceptual pressurized crewed lunar rover. (Credit: JAXA)

Aim is to make future lunar mobility a reality

TOKYO, March 12, 2019 (JAXA/Toyota PR) —The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Toyota Motor Corporation (Toyota) agreed today to study the possibility of collaborating on international space exploration. As a first step, JAXA and Toyota agreed to further cooperate on and accelerate their ongoing joint study*1 of a manned, pressurized rover*2 that employs fuel cell vehicle technologies. Such a form of mobility is deemed 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 for all of humankind 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 unmanned missions, such as the recent successful touchdown by the asteroid probe Hayabusa2 on the asteroid Ryugu, and manned missions, such as those involving humans using pressurized rovers to conduct activities on the moon, is essential. When it comes to challenging missions such as lunar or Martian exploration, while various countries are competing in advancing their technologies, they are also advancing their cooperative efforts.

JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa had this to say today about the agreement between JAXA and Toyota: “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. Manned rovers with pressurized cabins are an element that will play an important role in full-fledged exploration and use of the lunar surface. For this, we would like to concentrate our country’s technological abilities and conduct technological studies. Through our joint studies going forward, we would like to put to use Toyota’s excellent technological abilities related to mobility, and we look forward to the acceleration of our technological studies for the realization of a manned, pressurized rover.”

Conceptual pressurized crewed lunar rover. (Credit: JAXA)

Toyota President Akio Toyoda said this: “The automotive industry has long done business with the concepts of ‘hometown’ and ‘home country’ largely in mind. However, from now on, in responding to such matters as environmental issues of global scale, the concept of ‘home planet’, from which all of us come, will become a very important concept. Going beyond the frameworks of countries or regions, I believe that our industry, which is constantly thinking about the role it should fulfill, shares the same aspirations of international space exploration. Furthermore, cars are used in all of Earth’s regions, and, in some regions, cars play active roles as partners for making sure that people come back alive. And I think that coming back alive is exactly what is needed in this project. I am extremely happy that, for this project, expectations have been placed on the thus-far developed durability and driving performance of Toyota vehicles and on our fuel cell environmental technologies.”

Also, at a symposium held today in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, JAXA Vice President Koichi Wakata and Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi engaged in a talk session. Excerpts from that session are shown below.

Comments by JAXA Vice President 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.”

Comment by Toyota Executive Vice President 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 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 ideal for the project being discussed with JAXA.

“Toyota believes that achieving a sustainable society of mobility on Earth will involve the coexistence and widespread use of electrified vehicles, such as hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles. For electrification, fuel cell batteries represent an indispensable technology.

“Fuel cell vehicles have the ability to emit reduced amounts of the 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 proposal for the pressurized rover being studied by JAXA and Toyota

  • Length: 6.0 m; width: 5.2 m; height: 3.8 m (about 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 possible sustainable mobility on the surface of a moon or planet by way of astronaut operation, remote operation, or autonomous driving.

*3 Fuel cell vehicles reduce particulate matter in the air they take in by way of a filter, and they supply the resulting cleaner air to their fuel cell batteries, later emitting only water and surplus air.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Glad to see that JAXA has a desire to participate in manned lunar exploration. Hopefully we will see a similar desire to launch their own astronauts into space using either a home-grown system or using a commercial system.

  • dbooker

    Here’s hoping they don’t use Takada air bags…

  • Paul_Scutts

    Just think how high they can get their astronaut to jump on the Lunar surface … Oh what a feeling, … 🙂

  • Malatrope

    I have only one question: why do they show it having taillights? Are they anticipating traffic jams?

  • AdmBenson

    Like this famous Japanese vehicle –

    https://gfycat.com/carelessdelightfulannelida

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    *Takata

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Why wouldn’t you? You don’t think we will have more then one rover on the moon, or an geologist astronaut walking around looking at rocks, wouldn’t want to know if the rover is hitting the brakes, or backing up (possibly into them).

  • duheagle

    I seem to recall a story – possibly apocryphal – that the first two automobiles in the state of Ohio managed to run into each other.

  • Malatrope

    I remember that story, and I was born in Ohio, so it must be true…

  • duheagle

    It could be true. Now if the story had been about the first two cars in Boston it would obviously be true.