Technology transfer and collaboration continue to grow globally among mobility engineering professionals focused on aerospace and automotive applications. Cross-industry partnerships received a boost this week, as Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Toyota Motor Corp. officials announced increased cooperation on unmanned, electrified, and automated rovers for space exploration.
Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi and JAXA Vice President Koichi Wakata engaged in a discussion on aerospace and ground vehicle electrification, automation, and connectivity at a recent symposium in Tokyo.
Toyota Executive Vice President Terashi said:
“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’. 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.”
Toyota and JAXA have jointly pursued a conceptual study on a manned, pressurized rover since May 2018 based on a cooperation agreement. JAXA and Toyota engineers and executives are studying a pressurized rover concept proposal with the following specs:
- 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)
As envisioned in this project, the rover is 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.
The proposed rover is powered by fuel cell technologies. Fuel cell vehicles are found to reduce particulate matter in the air they take in by way of a filter; they supply the resulting cleaner air to their fuel cell batteries, later emitting only water and surplus air.
JAXA Vice President Wakata said:
“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 kilometers (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.”
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Courtney E. Howard is editorial director and content strategist at SAE International. Contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Courtney E. Howard brings 25 years of experience to the role of editorial director and content strategist at SAE International, where she specializes in and focuses on cutting-edge mobility engineering technologies and applications in high-tech articles, research reports, and multimedia such as webinars, podcasts, and videos. Connect with her by e-mail at email@example.com and add your voice to the growing body of mobility engineering knowledge.