Nissan and JAXA Join Forces to Release a New Lunar Rover Prototype

The breakthroughs made on the rover will be used to make better cars here on Earth.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The concept for Nissan's lunar rover.Nissan / YouTube

Last June, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and automaker Honda joined forces to test a new "circulative renewable energy system" to provide oxygen, hydrogen, and electricity to human outposts on space missions to the moon. Now, the Japanese space agency has partnered with yet another automaker (Nissan) to produce a lunar rover, according to a joint Thursday statement from Nissan and JAXA.

Looks like private-public partnerships will be crucial to future lunar missions, and beyond.

Nissan's JAXA partnership will enhance space and Earth-based vehicle technology

“JAXA aims to apply the research results to future space exploration. We are collaborating with companies, universities and research institutes on projects that are feasible and have potential for commercialization and innovation," said JAXA's Director of the Space Exploration Innovation Hub Center Ikkoh Funaki, in the statement. "By conducting research with Nissan, which has expertise in electrified technologies, we hope to apply our findings to the development of higher-performance lunar rovers."

The two organizations have collaborated since January 2020, and what's more: Nissan plans to use the breakthroughs made during this research to power its new range of electric vehicles. On Nissan's side, the automaker will incorporate all new findings into its LEAF vehicles, along with its all-new Ariya electric crossovers.

Honda paired with JAXA to build a power system for space missions

One feature slated for prominent use on the lunar rover and other new vehicles is the e-4ORCE all-wheel control technology. In space, the e-4ORCE is helping the lunar rover tackle tricky terrain. On Earth, the technology will allow drivers to precisely control all four wheels independently, enhancing traction and performance with the utmost confidence in a wide spectrum of environmental conditions. But to perform even in idyllic conditions, lunar rovers need to be equipped with gear that can handle complicated terrain, since the moon is famously powdery and smothered in rocks. The vehicles must also be energy-efficient, since there isn't exactly an abundance of charging stations on the lunar surface. But a lack of charging stations on the moon may not be a problem for long, since this news comes on the heels of an earlier deal between JAXA and Honda to build an energy system for future settlements in space. This will bolster the autonomy of deep space exploration missions, and establish a human presence in space separate from Earth.

To make it happen, the Honda-JAXA collaboration is developing a system that combines a fuel cell with a high-differential pressure water electrolysis system. The former is designed to electrolyze water via solar energy, generating both oxygen and hydrogen, while the fuel cell system will produce electricity and water from hydrogen and oxygen. "Oxygen, hydrogen, and electricity are essential to human activities in space," said JAXA Vice President Sasaki Hiroshi, in a June 2021 press release. "Realizing a circulative renewable energy system will enable us to obtain these requirements in space without relying on resupply from Earth. This is expected to dramatically expand our activities in space." With a new power system on the moon and beyond, Nissan's rovers could have all the power they need to carry out crucial tasks in the future of crewed deep space missions. But only time will tell where Nissan and JAXA's lunar rover will be used next, but in the meantime, we can witness the same advanced technology right here on Earth, operating Nissan's vehicles.

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