Last year the Japanese automaker, together with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA, announced that they will be working together on research for a manned moon land vehicle. Today, however, they just decided on a name, and it's absolutely perfect: Lunar Cruiser.
We should have seen it coming.
In an official announcement, Toyota and JAXA confirmed that the nickname for the vehicle will be Lunar Cruiser, evoking the all-terrain capabilities that the vehicle must have to traverse the moon's surface. And, of course, they're referencing one of the greatest off-road 4x4 nameplates of all time in the Land Cruiser.
JAXA and Toyota are both working on the research for the “Lunar Cruiser”, and it is intended to be a pressurized lunar rover with fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) drive technology. The joint effort will see research through simulation software to “confirm power and heat dissipation performance while driving”. The process will also see the development of prototype tires, as well as the construction of scale and full-size models.
One key thing about the Lunar Cruiser will revolve around the pressurized cabin. Previous lunar rovers used in the NASA Apollo missions were essentially open top, open wheel buggies that did not have pressurized cabins, requiring astronauts to wear their EVA (extravehicular activity) suits or space suits to drive. The moon, of course, has little in the way of atmosphere, and a pressurized cabin means the astronauts will have the ability to drive without wearing their pressurized space suits.
The tires will also be a challenge; previous rovers had mesh tires made of metal using woven piano wire and a titanium frame since the moon had no atmosphere. As to how Toyota and JAXA will work around that, we have yet to find out.
JAXA and Toyota expect to launch a working Lunar Cruiser to the moon in the latter part of this decade.