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Suzuki takes its expertise to the Moon in seeking the Google Lunar Xprize

Suzuki will partner with Japanese lunar exploration team Hakuto, the automaker announced yesterday. Through the partnership, Suzuki will provide technical support to help develop Hakuto’s lunar rover to compete for the Google Lunar Xprize (GLXP).

The GLXP — also known as Moon 2.0 — challenges privately funded space exploration teams to land a robotic spacecraft on the lunar surface, and to direct the craft to travel 500 meters and capture and transmit high-definition images and data back to Earth, within a December 2017 deadline. Sixteen teams remain in the competition.

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“Our sympathy with Hakuto challenging the dream with a small rover made us decide to support the project, as we ourselves have been contributing to creating affluent societies through manufacturing small cars,” Toshihiro Suzuki, Suzuki’s President, CEO, and COO, said in a press release.

Haktuo is the only Japanese team competing for the GLXP. The team of interdisciplinary scientists and engineers is supported by Tokyo-based startup Ispace Technologies, whose mission is to develop interconnected micro-robots to survey outer space for resource identification.

The Japanese team’s biggest obstacles include developing a rover that is lightweight and maneuverable on the Moon’s rocky surface. Hakuto hopes Suzuki’s automotive manufacturing experience will assist in decreasing weight and maintaining traction control.

“Since weight saving [for] the rover and four-wheel-drive technology are essential, we feel assured as Suzuki joins us,” Hakuto team leader Takeshi Hakamada said in a press release. “We will consider incorporating Suzuki’s technologies nurtured through manufacturing small cars into the rover.”

The team’s current rover design, Pre-Flight Model 3, is equipped with a 360-degree camera, solar panels, a carbon-fiber hull, and specialized wheels to navigate the powdery terrain.

Hakuto faces stiff competition though. For example, one of the GLXP’s leading and most innovative contenders is an Israeli nonprofit organization called SpaceIL, which plans to accomplish the 500-meter trek by hopping — rather than driving — across the Moon, using rocket propulsion.