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Toyota rockets past Elon Musk to put a lunar vehicle on the moon

Mar 12 2019 21:40
Reed Stevenson, Bloomberg

Toyota is scoping out a new frontier: lunar rovers.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is teaming up with the country’s largest carmaker to build a six-wheeled self-driving transporter that can carry two humans for a distance of 10 000 kilometers. They’re aiming to land a vehicle on the moon in 2029.

The announcement comes less than a week after Tesla co-founder Elon Musk’s SpaceX docked a craft at the International Space Station.

Toyota’s fuel-cell technology will power the rover, which will be big enough for two astronauts. They’ll the able to take their suits off and live in the vehicle as they explore the lunar surface, said Shigeki Terashi, an executive vice president at Toyota.

“It’s an extremely challenging project, and we have high hopes for Toyota’s technology,” Koichi Wakata, an astronaut who has flown in NASA’s Space Shuttle and served as the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station, said at a JAXA event.

Toyota has for years made robots that are designed to perform tasks such as housework, and to help people who have difficulty walking. Now it’s using its technology to conquer space. Roughly the size of two mini buses, the Toyota-JAXA lunar rover will be six meters long and have 13 square meters of habitable space.

The rover will use solar arrays and fuel cells to generate and store power. It will land on the moon before a human expedition arrives, and drive to meet them. The project calls for the rover to be used in four other exploration areas, so it will have to move around on its own to meet arriving astronauts.

The announcement comes at a time when China is ramping up its own space ambitions, thanks to an annual budget of $8 billion — second only to the US. Following a world-first landing on the far side of the moon in January, the world’s No. 2 economy is also making plans for a solar power station in space and a Mars probe is likely before the end of this decade.

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