TOKYO — Toyota and Japan's space agency said on Tuesday they had agreed to cooperate in developing a manned lunar rover that runs on fuel cell technologies.
Although Japan has no plan currently to make a manned rocket that could send people into space, the rover could be a major contribution to an international space program in the future, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.
The rover "will be an important element supporting human lunar exploration, which we envision will take place in the 2030s," JAXA Vice President Koichi Wakata told a symposium in Tokyo.
"We aim to launch such a rover into space in 2029."
The rover is still in the conceptual stage, but an illustration in the news release showed a six-wheel vehicle that somewhat resembled an armored personnel carrier.
A spokesman for Toyota, which plans to ramp up fuel-cell cars as a zero-emission alternative to gasoline vehicles, said the project would give the company a chance to test its technologies in the moon's harsh environment and improve them.
Said Toyota President Akio Toyoda: "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."
Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi stressed the excitement that comes with taking part in a space project.
"As an engineer, there is no greater joy than being able to participate in a lunar project by way of Toyota's car-making," Terashi told the symposium.
"Being allowed to be a member of 'Team Japan,' we would like to take up the challenge of space."