Self-Driving Lunar Rovers
National Geographic’s television series entitled "Mars", has enthralled space fans around the world. This NASA produced series has captured the minds and imaginations of a whole new generation. Toyota has recently announced in partnership with NASA that by 2029 the very popular lunar rovers on the show would be a reality by the end of the decade.
The Audi “Lunar Quattro” lunar rover is scheduled to achieve its moon landing in 2021 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 two-stage rocket. In early 2015, Audi announced a partnership with the German space travel research team “PTScientists” to take advantage of both parties and finally send the lunar rover to the moon with the support of the Google “LunarXPRIZE” Lunar Exploration Competition. The Audi will weigh just 35 Kg and travel at a speed of 3.6 km/h.
According to the Kyodo News Agency, Toyota Motor Corporation has also set their sights on the Moon. Toyota will work with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency(JAXA) to develop a closed self-driving fuel cell lunar rover that can be used without spacesuits on the moon.
The six-wheeled vehicle will be able to travel 10,000 kilometers with two astronauts, while the battery life depends on solar energy and Toyota's fuel cell. The first prototype should be in operation by 2022, with test flights by 2027. The lunar landing for the Toyota rover is slated for 2029.
In this cooperation project, JAXA will rely on the durability and environmental adaptation technology of Toyota vehicles, and Toyota hopes to promote fuel cell vehicle related systems and technologies while upgrading related technologies.
The concept will use Toyota's Fuel Cell Vehicle technology, which replaces the use of batteries. These fuel cells that use oxygen and compressed hydrogen, which react to generate electricity. Zero emission technology has been used on Toyota's Mirai car.
“The fuel cells that use clean power generation only emit water, and because of their high energy density, they can provide a large amount of energy, which makes them particularly suitable for JAXA’s projects” said Shigeki Terashi, executive vice president of Toyota.
There is also an active performance of battery-powered adventure vehicles in the Apollo program. However, due to the open design, the astronauts must wear spacesuits while the ride. If the car which is full of air can travel on the moon, it will become the world's first.
According to the creative concept, a lunar rover that maintains a comfortable air pressure inside of the vehicle will be developed, so the astronauts won’t need to wear spacesuits.
The car is 6 meters long, 5.2 meters wide and 3.8 meters high, about the size of two vans. The internal space is approximately 4.5 tatami (about 7.29 square meters) and can accommodate 2 people. 4 people can be seated as emergency. According to JAXA's plan, the lunar rover will land on the surface of the moon before the astronauts, and then travel alone to meet the astronauts.
Since there is almost no atmosphere on the lunar surface, there are extremely large temperature differences between the day and the night.
Radiation is also prevalent on the moon, creating quite a harsh environment. The developed lunar rover needs to have a technology that adapts to such a harsh environment and safely moves around the lunar surface without leaking air and putting astronaut’s lives at risk.
According to JAXA, lunar exploration will be carried out in the five years from 2029 to 2034, and the efforts will be made to investigate the five regions of the moon. The astronauts will take a 42-day probe every time.
JAXA plans to implement various lunar explorations, such as the use of the unmanned lander "SLIM" in the 2020s. After unmanned detection, it will challenge the manned detection of the lunar rover.
With the continuous exploration of the moon and Mars, it is believed that in the near future, human beings will start traveling to Mars en masse.