In early 2019, Toyota joined forces with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to develop a six-wheeled rover capable of transporting two astronauts and their gear on the moon. Development work is ongoing, the process is expected to take nearly a decade, but the partners have already agreed on a name.
It's an off-roader, albeit not one Toyota is used to developing, so it earned the name Lunar Cruiser. The Japanese firm explained it chose that name because the vehicle's basic mission is the same as the original Land Cruiser's: to bring its passengers home alive. FJ Cruiser-like trim on the front end creates another link to Toyota's SUVs.
While the Land Cruiser was designed to effortlessly cross some of the most treacherous terrain on the planet, the 20-foot-long Lunar Cruiser will need to take two astronauts on a 6,200-mile exploration trip (or, in Instagram influencer-speak, #vanlife) while relying on both a giant solar panel and a hydrogen fuel cell for power. As we reported in 2019, it will reach the Moon before the crew, and it will drive autonomously to greet them when they arrive. Once aboard, they'll head towards the lunar poles in search of frozen water.
Toyota explained the rover will be pressurized, so astronauts will be able to remove their spacesuits when they're in the vehicle's 140-square-foot passenger compartment. Interestingly, the firm is also studying how the pressurized rover could help a growing group of companies named Team Japan create a lunar surface-based society, and it's making a list of the many hurdles that need to be cleared before humans can colonize the Moon.
We're not there yet, and the Lunar Cruiser isn't scheduled to blast off until 2030. As of writing, engineers are using computer simulations to study its power and heat dissipation properties. They're also assessing the type of tires or wheels needed, and they're using both virtual reality-based software and scale models to find the best interior layout. None of the Lunar Cruiser's tech will find its way into the next-generation Land Cruiser, which should ditch its V8 and adopt a twin-turbocharged V6, but Toyota may choose to hide an Easter egg or two in the truck.