Meet ‘Lunar Cruiser’: Japan’s big moon rover for astronauts gets a nickname

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We now know what to call the crewed lunar rover being developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Toyota.

The pressurized moon vehicle, which is expected to launch in the late 2020s, has been nicknamed “Lunar Cruiser,” JAXA and Toyota representatives announced in an update last week.

The moniker, a nod to Toyota’s Land Cruiser SUV, “was chosen because of the familiar feeling it offers the people involved in the development and manufacture of the vehicle prototype as part of the joint research project as well as the familiarity it will provide the general public,” the update reads.

Related: Living on the moon: What it would be like (infographic)

JAXA and Toyota signed an agreement last summer to develop the lunar rover, which will incorporate fuel-cell electric-vehicle technologies. This year, the partnership is working to build test parts for each major piece of the vehicle, and for a prototype of Lunar Cruiser itself.

“The work involves the use of simulations to confirm power and heat dissipation performance while driving, the manufacture and assessment of prototype tires, and the use of virtual reality and full-scale models to consider the layout of equipment in the cabin of the Lunar Cruiser,” the update states.

JAXA, Toyota and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries lead the Team Japan Working Group, which was established in August 2019 to study ways to help create a sustainable human presence on the moon. Making this ambitious goal a reality will almost certainly require international cooperation — with NASA, for example, which is working toward the same aim with its Artemis program.

The Lunar Cruiser could play an integral role in the expansion of human society to the moon. For example, the vehicle could help astronauts explore the lunar polar regions for water ice and other resources, Toyota representatives said last year when announcing the rover project.

Lunar Cruiser wouldn’t be the first crewed rover to roam the moon’s gray hills. NASA launched astronaut-driven “moon buggies” on the final three Apollo missions, in 1971 and 1972. Unlike Lunar Cruiser, however, the Apollo rovers were unpressurized, so the astronauts who rode in them had to wear spacesuits.

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