Japan and NASA plan a historic lunar RV roadtrip together

Toyota concept art for lunar RV

Japan is working alongside Toyota and Hyundai to develop a massive lunar RV. Toyota / JAXA

Japan has offered to provide the United States with a pressurized moon rover—in exchange for a reserved seat on the lunar van. Per NASA, the two nations have themselves a deal. 

According to a new signed agreement between NASA and Japan’s government, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will “design, develop, and operate” a sealed vehicle for both crewed and uncrewed moon excursions. NASA will then oversee the launch and delivery, while Japanese astronauts will join two surface exploration missions in the vehicle.

[ Related: SLIM lives! Japan’s upside-down lander is online after a brutal lunar night ]

‘A mobile habitat’

Japan’s pressurized RV will mark a significant step forward for lunar missions. According to Space.com, the nation has spent the past few years working to develop such a vehicle alongside Toyota and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Toyota offered initial specs for the RV last year—at nearly 20-feet-long, 17-feet-wide, and 12.5-feet-tall, the rover will be about as large as two minibusses parked side-by-side. The cabin itself will provide “comfortable accommodation” for two astronauts, although four can apparently cram in, should an emergency arise.

Like an RV cruising across the country, the rover is meant to provide its inhabitants with everything they could need for as long as 30 days at a time. While inside, astronauts will even be able to remove their bulky (and fashionable) getups and move about normally—albeit in about 16.6 percent the gravity as on Earth. Last week, NASA announced it had narrowed the search for its new Artemis Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) to three companies, but unlike Japan’s vehicle, that one will be unpressurized.

[Related: It’s on! Three finalists will design a lunar rover for Artemis

“It’s a mobile habitat,” NASA Administrator Nelson said during yesterday’s press conference alongside Minister Moriyama, describing it as “a lunar lab, a lunar home, and a lunar explorer… a place where astronauts can live, work, and navigate the lunar surface.”

Similar to the forthcoming Lunar Terrain Vehicle, the Japanese RV can be remotely controlled if astronauts aren’t around, and will remain in operation for 10 years following its delivery.

“The quest for the stars is led by nations that explore the cosmos openly, in peace, and together… America no longer will walk on the moon alone,” Nelson added.

A total of 12 astronauts—all American men—have walked across the moon’s surface. When the U.S. returns to the moon with NASA’s Artemis missions, it will also be the first time a woman and a person of color will land on the moon.

After some rescheduling, NASA currently intends to send its Artemis II astronauts on a trip around the moon in late 2025. Artemis III will see the first two humans touchdown in over 50 years in either late 2026 or early 2027. The Artemis IV mission is currently intended to occur no earlier than 2030. Meanwhile, China is trying to land its own astronauts on the lunar surface in 2030