Nissan's rugged truck/trailer concept tows high-powered telescope in search of dark skies
Earlier this week, Nissan teased a Navara pickup concept with trailer in tow. The heavily cropped image led us to believe that Nissan Europe was following the lead of Nissan USA in showing a rugged, new overlanding or lifestyle sports concept. But, not so. The all-new Navara Dark Sky Concept is indeed a ruggedized pickup pulling a heavy-duty off-road trailer, but it's not going fishing or camping – it's there to take astronomers deep into the wilds, far away from the light pollution of civilization. It's essentially a tough, no-nonsense observatory on wheels.
Nissan developed the Dark Sky Concept in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and revealed it on Wednesday at the IAA Commercial Vehicles show in Hannover. The most critical component is the off-road trailer behind the Navara pickup, a bespoke, steel-frame build that carries a high-powered PlaneWave telescope inside. That telescope zooms in beyond the rings of Saturn, showing distant galaxies, nebulae and supernovae.
During the ride, the specially refrigerated trailer interior keeps the telescope at optimal temperature, ensuring it's stable and calibrated on arrival. A reflective lining inside the carbon fiber laminate body helps in keeping things cool.
After rumbling over pavement, dirt, gravel, mud, ice and whatever else is in its way, the dual-axle trailer's mechanized body shell splits open and stabilizer legs drop down so the telescope can be raised and focused on the clear, clean sky above. The remote control-operated trailer comes powered by Nissan Leaf-derived battery packs.
The second puzzle piece of this concept, the Navara pickup, stands as burly and ready to go as the trailer. It's been lifted for added ground clearance and equipped with enhancements like the beefed-up front bumper, winch, roll bars, 20-in wheels with off-road tires, and high-intensity roof light bar. The 2.3-liter twin-turbo diesel engine puts out 187 hp (139 kW) and 332 lb-ft (450 Nm) of torque. The truck bed includes a dock for a pair of spare battery packs, offering charging when the engine is running.
The Dark Sky Navara's dual-tone paint job represents nebulae across the pitch black night sky. The red lights provide the perfect visual accent for that paint, but they also enjoy a more critical role in the build – red light affects human vision less than other light, so the truck and trailer use it at the destination to ensure minimal disruption of the dark skies they're purpose-designed to access.
The idea of the Dark Sky concept is to work as a capable, go-anywhere observatory that can reach remote dark sky locations – areas far away from the light pollution of cities and other population centers. Once there, astronomers can pop out the PlaneWave and observe the sky under the most ideal conditions.
Specifically, the Dark Sky Navara was imagined as a support vehicle for ESA's Gaia project. The Gaia satellite has been working to map out billions of stars, and ESA team members need to make follow-up observations from the ground. The Dark Sky makes it happen.
"Telescopes like the one in the trailer are needed in studies of planets and stars in our galaxy, allowing Earth-based follow-up campaigns enabled by the Gaia data," explains Dr. Fred Jansen, ESA's senior mission manager for Gaia. "The Navara Dark Sky Concept allows observations to take place in very remote places, avoiding light pollution, while also transporting telescopes safely and easily."
I'm no professional astronomer, but the Dark Sky resonates with me more than the average concept car. I camp regularly in and around the international dark-sky places in Southern Utah and often enjoy views not only of the explosion of stars but also phenomena like shooting stars and meteor showers.
I've been planning to purchase a portable telescope to take further advantage of the viewing opportunities in places like Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks, and an off-road trailer with neatly integrated professional-grade telescope takes that idea to the next level – or a few levels beyond.
I'd personally love to see a slide-out stove in back, roof-top tent on top and water jug in the pickup bed – refrigeration is already covered. Nissan might not do that, but it does mention that the Navara roof is ready to carry the gear necessary for overnight stays.
The Dark Sky concept also highlights how Nissan's Intelligent Mobility technology could be more finely honed for trailer towing. The truck is upgraded with additional sensors and an enhanced version of Nissan's ProPilot automated driving suite that includes the intelligent towing hitch alignment system, which can take over steering, acceleration, braking and shifting for precise alignment between hitch and hitch receiver.
During the ride, the intelligent cruise control and steering assist help maintain a safe distance while keeping the truck and trailer centered in their lane, even through curves. Meanwhile, the blind spot warning and intelligent around-view monitor systems have been adjusted to account for the 13-ft (4-m) trailer.
Upon arrival, the Navara's intelligent radars and camera sensors scan the terrain to identify the best location to park and stabilize the trailer, ensuring that the observation mission gets off on solid footing.
"Using Nissan Intelligent Mobility technologies, we wanted to construct the most advanced and capable pickup to meet [towers'] needs," says Paolo D'Ettore, head of Nissan Europe's light commercial vehicle business unit. "The result is the Nissan Navara Dark Sky concept, and in future we intend to make towing a simpler and more confident activity for all our customers."
Learn more about the design process and get a look at the Dark Sky Concept in action in the video clip below.
Source: Nissan Europe