Every engineer thinks and dreams about going to the sixth continent
This year, 2019, marks 50 years since Captain Armstrong of the Apollo 11 mission took mankind’s first steps on the surface of the moon. Now once again, a space exploration program with an international framework aiming for the moon and Mars is being actively discussed around the world. Japan is no exception. At an international space symposium in Tokyo this past week on March 12th, a large number of professionals from a variety of related industries and research institutions were in attendance to hear about and discuss the latest trends, movements, and approaches to the challenges that need to be overcome in space exploration.
Among the sessions, in the evening session entitled “Lunar surface activities by collective efforts across the nation”, an overview of a manned, pressurized rover that has been under discussion behind the scenes between the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Toyota was announced.
First, Dr. Koichi Wakata, JAXA Vice President and Astronaut, took the stage and introduced JAXA’s vision for an international space exploration program aiming to expand the arena of mankind and the creation of intellectual properties. Wakata, while emphasizing the importance of cooperation between the scientific and industrial communities, further explained that in addition to working under an international collaboration scheme, it is also necessary to work collectively across the nation of Japan as “Team Japan”.
Critical within the framework are manned, pressurized rover missions, with the timing of the missions to be the early 2030s. The rover is anticipated to be a wheeled vehicle capable of travel across the surface of the moon and capable of maintaining atmospheric pressure suitable for humans to spend time inside without the need to wear a space suit. As he wrapped up his presentation of this first-of-its-kind series of missions, Mr. Wakata introduced JAXA’s new partner and team member for the rover, Toyota Motor Corporation.
Upon the conclusion of Dr. Wakata’s presentation, Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi was invited to the stage where he gave a presentation entitled “Toyota Contributes to International Space Exploration”. The following is excerpted from that presentation.
An Engineer’s Dream
Hello, my name is Shigeki Terashi of Toyota Motor Corporation. Normally, my conversations are about limited to cars, but today I am here at the JAXA space symposium, so I feel out of my world and a bit nervous.
Let me start by introducing Toyota’s first encounter with a project related to space as seen in this photograph. This photograph is from 2012 when we used one of our vehicles to help transport the decommissioned space shuttle Endeavour from the Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center. While it was only used for just a small part of its final journey, we were extremely honored to provide one of our Texas-built Toyota Tundra pickup trucks.
Since our founding, we have had the philosophy that we should do all we can to be useful to humanity and society. Now, on this occasion, it is a true honor again to be asked to participate in a project [with JAXA] that aims to expand the arena of human activities to the surface of the moon and the requirements of that harsh environment―certainly a dream come true for any engineer, I think.
Currently, based on the various parameters we received from JAXA, and while only at a hypothetical stage, please allow me to share and introduce a few of the rover’s features. This is a conceptual image. Because ultimately there will be a various number of additional/changing parameters that might arise, this is subject to change. Sometimes we hear that Toyota’s vehicle designs can be a bit boring; however, I think that this type of design should be reflected in the next Land Cruiser. (Laughs)
To realize the series of lunar surface exploration missions [outlined by Dr. Wakata], there are a number of things that are necessary, starting with rockets and a gateway. Among these preparations, the part that we at Toyota can make the greatest contribution to is, of course, in making a vehicle to transport people.
To make the lunar rover, we have been asked to consider the following parameters:
- The vehicle must be able to travel on the moon’s surface for up to 6 weeks
- The interior must be designed to allow the astronauts to remove their space suits and live
- The space inside needs to be able to provide just under about 13 m3 of living space
- The exterior should be slightly larger than “the size of two microbuses”
Overall, the initial mission is planned to run a total 10,000 km over 42 days. In order to secure the amount of energy needed to travel, Toyota plans to equip the vehicle with its next-generation fuel cell. We plan to make the rover capable of traveling up to 1,000 km on one fill of the hydrogen tank. We understand that daytime on the moon lasts for two weeks and that nighttime also lasts for two weeks, so the vehicle will need to generate electricity using solar photovoltaic panels and electricity will also need to be stored to use in the operation of other electronic devices outside of vehicle movement. Also, to help the crew be able to safely arrive at their destinations, the vehicle will need to offer driving performance and automated driving functions.
This is a video showing our “5 Continents Drive Project”. Toyota provides vehicles for the use of our customers all around the world. Starting from 2014, we undertook the goal to visit all five continents all over again. Our philosophy is that by knowing the types of roads that exist around the world and how those roads affect people, we should have people who have experienced that for themselves to build ever better cars. Some customers travel for hours in areas where there are no roads, where if a vehicle gets stuck or breaks down it can be a matter of life or death.
We continue to labor daily so that customers like these will choose the quality, durability, and reliability that our vehicles are known for. While the environments on earth and the surface of the moon are completely different, we would like to maintain that same reputation for quality, durability, and reliability as we aim to fulfill our role in the development of the lunar rover.
In addition to quality, durability, and reliability, recently, there is an acronym being used―”CASE”. If we are comparing so-called “real” technology to the traditional terms of quality, durability, and reliability, then we can compare the individual parts of CASE to “virtual” technology, such as automated driving, artificial intelligence, and connected, etc. For travel on the surface of the moon, we will need the collective strengths of both “real” and “virtual” technologies. This is because of the even harsher environmental conditions that exist on the moon versus those found on Earth. We want to do all we can to satisfy the demands of this project by further forging these collective strengths.
From here, please allow me to share some additional information about the fuel cell technology that Toyota will use to contribute to this project. Fuel cell technology is not new. In fact, hydrogen fuel cells have been used as an energy source for space missions since planning the first Gemini mission in 1965, through the Apollo and space shuttle missions.
Let me show you how fuel cells operate. Maybe some of you know already, but fuel cells operate by generating electricity from the chemical reaction caused from the combination of hydrogen and oxygen. The product of this reaction is water. Because both hydrogen and oxygen are gases, if you put them in a tank, they can be stored for a long period of time and can be transported.
So how do fuel cells compare to lithium-ion batteries? This was something that we considered from various angles. In general [fuel cells] have the characteristics of being lighter and more compact [than lithium-ion batteries]. As our engineers considered the needs of this mission, they calculated the amount of energy that would be sufficient to secure the driving range required, and found that fuel cells, at approximately one-fifth the mass of lithium-ion batteries and about 20 percent smaller in terms of volume, were the best choice.
For the initial mission, the hydrogen and oxygen that will be used as fuel will be transported from the Earth. By exchanging tanks, the rover should be able to operate for a long time. The water that results as the product from the generation of electricity can be re-used as either a coolant or as drinking water. For these and other reasons, we believe fuel cells to be the most suitable source of energy for this mission.
Furthermore, if, for example, the lunar surface exploration mission yields a source of lunar water, and if that water can be utilized, then it might offer a secure supply of energy for human activities in space. Solar photovoltaic panels could be used for electrolysis, splitting the hydrogen and oxygen to be stored as a fuel, then using that to generate electricity, with the byproduct of water again. That water could be used for living or even as a source of electricity.
We at Toyota also believe that the water could be used to create a hydrogen society. From this viewpoint as well, we feel that this might be a mission of great significance and would like to contribute. For Toyota, in order to realize a sustainable mobility society, we believe that hydrogen and fuel cells are indispensable and we are working to increase its use more broadly.
We would like for our fuel cell technology that we have cultivated to be used not only in products that we offer, but to be used in a host of mobility applications. We would like to coordinate and collaborate together with our many stakeholders using this technology.
Space exploration is the dojo that tests even the highest level of technological strength, and we must do all we can to ensure the safe return of all members of the crew from this challenging mission. On this occasion, we are ready to challenge ourselves as we accept the honor of becoming one of the members of “Team Japan” under the strong leadership of JAXA.
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