Toyota and JAXA to work together to build lunar rover

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Capitalism in space? Toyota and and Japan’s space agency JAXA announced yesterday that they have signed an agreement to build lunar rover.

The rover “will be an important element supporting human lunar exploration, which we envision will take place in the 2030s”, JAXA Vice President Koichi Wakata told a symposium in Tokyo. “We aim to launch such a rover into space in 2029.”

The rover is still in the conceptual stage, but an illustration in the news release showed a six-wheel vehicle that somewhat resembled an armored personnel carrier.

A spokesman for Toyota, which plans to ramp up fuel-cell cars as a zero-emission alternative to gasoline vehicles, said the project would give the company a chance to test its technologies in the moon’s harsh environment and improve them. [emphasis mine]

Ten years to build a rover? That’s not capitalism, that’s a government jobs program whose only goal is to spend money and never accomplishes anything.

Japan continues to disappoint. Even as India and China forge ahead aggressively with new space technology and exciting projects, Japan seems unable to harness its considerable private resources to bring life to its aerospace industry. Their unmanned planetary program, as illustrated by Hayabusa-2, is right now having some success, but the pace of achievement has tended to be slow and laborious. This rover project seems to continue that trend.



  • Ian C.

    Seems to be a recurring theme of most space agencies. The planetary science programs are often okay, most of the rest not so much. Perhaps they have less management complexity compared to others? Different incentives? Less politics and less/different suppliers involved?

  • Richard M

    For comparison, the first RFP for the Apollo lunar roving vehicle was put out on July 11, 1969.

    The actual cost-plus contract was awarded to Boeing in October, 1969. It specified delivery of first LRV by April 1, 1971. Boeing actually met the deadline, and the first LRV went up in July, 1971.

    Kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it? It’s amazing how many things NASA was able to accomplish so QUICKLY in 1962-1972.

    Now, it’s true that the LRV was a smaller, simpler vehicle with much less in the way of performance requirements than what JAXA is talking about. LRV only had to last a few days and travel no more than 36km, nor was it pressurized. Whereas JAXA wants this new rover to have a total lunar-surface cruising range of more than 10,000 km (that would literally circumnavigate the Moon!) So some allowance has to be made here.

    On the other hand, we have fifty more years of technology development. I think if you were in as big of a hurry as NASA was in 1969, you could get this thing built in a considerably shorter time than ten years. Obviously, JAXA is not in a hurry. But then neither is NASA, and they probably figure there is no point to having it done any sooner if NASA won’t even be back on the Moon before then, anyway.

  • Edward

    Richard M wrote: “It’s amazing how many things NASA was able to accomplish so QUICKLY in 1962-1972.

    NASA had motivation, funding, and a can-do spirit. Congress has no sense of urgency, so motivation, funding, and the can-do spirit are no longer necessary for any of Congress’s pet projects. This happened to JWST even though there was an enormous amount of science expected in having JWST operate in conjunction with Hubble (view the same things at or near the same time), so time was of the essence (the clock was ticking). Now, however, we may lose the benefits of Hubble before JWST can become operational.

    Congress has not only limited NASA’s funding but has deflated the can-do spirit in much of the high-value programs. The low cost projects seem to still have the motivation to get results quickly, but that could be due to the tendency of Congress to divert funds from the smaller projects to the larger ones whenever the larger ones get into trouble, so finishing on time and near budget can get the project into space before the next diversion of funds happens.

    Few governments operate with a sense of urgency. This is why Toyota is not in a hurry and why ULA and Blue Origin had to delay their next rockets immediately after accepting government support for building them.

    However, when commercial enterprises work on projects that they pay for, it needs to pay off sooner rather than later. SpaceX is working hard to get its Super Heavy rocket and its Starship payload, going sooner rather than later — with a sense of urgency — to the point that they seem to be preparing to begin testing almost as soon as their launch pad is complete.

    It is important to SpaceX that Starship-Super Heavy gets results and starts generating revenue as early as possible in order to get the return on their investment in a timely manner.

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