Toyota develops self-driving moon rover for Japan's first manned lunar mission

Photo: Reuters.

Japanese car maker Toyota has unveiled its first space vehicle, a six-wheeled electric moon rover powered by fuel cell batteries.

Developed in collaboration with Japanese space agency JAXA, the lunar rover is about the size of two small coaches, with a cabin space of 13 square metres.

It is capable of accommodating two people comfortably, or up to four in an emergency.

The cabin is pressurised, so astronauts will be able to travel inside it without wearing spacesuits.

"Manned, pressurised rovers will be an important element supporting human lunar exploration, which we envision will take place in the 2030s," said JAXA Vice President Koichi Wakata.

Toyota claims the moon rover is capable of traversing more than 10,000km of the lunar surface at a time, "even with the limited amount of energy that can be transported to the moon".

As the fuel cell batteries are powered by hydrogen, there is a possibility that they could be recharged on the lunar surface if water is found.

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It can either be driven by an on-board astronaut, operated remotely, or drive itself autonomously, according to Toyota.

"Lunar gravity is one-sixth of that on Earth," said Mr Wakata, speaking at a symposium in Tokyo.

"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 pressurised rover that can travel more than 10,000km in such environments is a necessity.

"Toyota's 'space mobility' concept meets such mission requirements."

While the lunar rover is not ready to launch yet, JAXA said it had helped identify the technological issues that need to be solved.

The space agency plans to launch an unmanned moon probe in 2021, followed by a manned lunar expedition in 2029.