TOKYO, July 21 (Reuters) – Toyota Motor ( 7203.T ) plans to use regenerative fuel cell technology to power a manned lunar rover, executives said on Friday, raising the prospect of using lunar water ice as a future energy source.
Japan has stepped up its space ambitions under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
It is participating in NASA’s Artemis program and plans to have an astronaut at a lunar space station called Gateway as part of that in the second half of the 2020s.
Toyota has teamed up with the Japanese space agency since 2019 to develop the manned lunar rover – dubbed the Lunar Cruiser – which they hope can land on the moon in 2029.
“In order to carry out long-term and stable research on the surface of the moon, we aim to find various items on the site over a long period of time,” said Ken Yamashita, head of the lunar exploration project at Toyota.
NASA expects Japan to provide a target launch date of 2029 for a lunar rover in support of the Artemis program, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said in a presentation on Friday.
A fuel cell vehicle uses an electric motor like an electric vehicle but draws power from a fuel cell where hydrogen is split with a catalyst to produce electricity.
Toyota said their technology will use solar energy and water to produce hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis during daylight hours, and the fuel cells to provide electricity during the night.
A lunar night lasts about 14 deep days, so with the help of technology the lunar rover would be able to ride a stretch for many days even when it is dark and very cold.
The world’s largest sales buyer hopes to receive an order for the manned lunar rover by autumn next year. The vehicle is expected to be able to carry two astronauts for 42 days a year on a mission and remain operational for 10 years, he said.
“Our idea is to continue the lunar rover beyond those 10 years if there is a company or arrangement that can provide the water needed for that,” Yamashita said, adding that clean water must be sent into space with it first.
Toyota does not expect to be able to generate usable water for fuel cells from the moon’s water ice or to be able to mine it on its own, Yamashita warned, saying it would depend on other companies or future developments for that.
Reporting by Daniel Leussink; Edited by Angus MacSwan
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Daniel Leussink is a correspondent in Japan. Recently, he has been covering Japan’s automotive industry, describing how some of the world’s largest operators are making the switch to electric vehicles and an unprecedented supply chain disruption. Since joining Reuters in 2018, Leussink has also covered the Japanese economy, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, COVID-19 and the Bank of Japan’s ultra-easy monetary policy experiment.