To the moon, please this way: Now the South Korean car manufacturer Hyundai Motor is also starting to manufacture moon mobiles. In April, the South Korean group announced that it would develop a concept for a lunar rover together with partners from the aerospace, construction and robotics industries. The company had already announced a cooperation in July 2022, with the help of which “mobility solutions” were to be developed for the moon.
The envisaged platform is a self-propelled vehicle that can be charged with solar energy, shielded against radioactive radiation and carry up to 70 kilograms of equipment. The developers want to use control and robot technologies from companies in the Hyundai Motor Group.
The project is obviously not a motivational aid for engineers, but a strategic decision. Kim Yong-wha, Head of R&D Planning & Coordination Center at Hyundai Motor Group, said: “With the development of the rover, we are going beyond land, sea and air mobility and expanding into space mobility.” The first prototype is planned for 2024, the finished mobile by 2027.
Japan has always tried everything possible with electronics – and often the impossible. Every Thursday our author Martin Kölling reports on the latest trends from Japan and neighboring countries.
Space as a strategic business area of South Korea
Hyundai can be sure of government support. The government of the East Asian export nation has also discovered space travel as a strategic business area and is pursuing an ambitious lunar program. The Danuri probe, which was launched into orbit by a rocket from the US company SpaceX, is currently orbiting the moon.
The carmaker is supported in the development by a number of state institutes, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI), the Electronics and Telecommunication Research Institute (ETRI), the Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT), the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) and the Korea Automotive Technology Institute (KATECH).
The Koreans’ rush reflects the global race to find the moon, which automakers are currently affording. A terrestrial mobility group was already involved in the development of celestial locomotion with the first moon rover: General Motors (GM) worked with the aircraft manufacturer Boeing on an electrically powered two-seater that actually drove on the moon’s surface in 1971.
The world’s largest carmaker Toyota announced in 2019 that it would develop a multi-seater fuel cell bus with a range of 10,000 kilometers for tours on the moon.
Toyota’s local rival Nissan has also announced plans for a lunar vehicle using four-wheel technology from Renault’s partner. The initiative is reminiscent of the Audi Lunar Quattro presented in 2015, an allusion to the earthly four-wheel drive of the VW brand.
Not just moon rovers for NASA
In the USA, it is now again the car company GM that is developing the moon rover, this time with the aircraft and armaments company Lockheed Martin. The duo wants to produce an electric vehicle by 2025 for NASA’s moon mission. In contrast to its ancestor, which made it six to seven kilometers on one battery charge, it will be able to travel much further and, above all, drive autonomously.
Last year, the two companies even promised to develop other models for other purposes and customers other than NASA. The next big challenge will then be the lunar transport. Because for a permanent and, above all, manned base on the moon, a regular transport service must be set up. And the risk of accidents is still high, as the first moon mission by a private company showed at the end of April.
The Japanese company ispace, which wants to establish itself as a logistics company for transport in space, sent its Moonlander M1 on board a SpaceX rocket in December 2022. But on landing, the probe crashed along with its cargo, including the United Arab Emirates’ mini moonrover Rashid.
Investor reaction showed that this setback has by no means ended the vision of colonizing the moon. The company’s share price, which went public on the Tokyo stock exchange in mid-April, fell by more than 20 percent after the accident. But the price quickly stabilized at around five times the issue price. Because the company is already building two more mobiles for moon missions for 2024 and 2025.