Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept is intergalactic planetary
The automaker and the European Space Agency team up to create a cool mobile observatory with an ultra-powerful telescope.
Chris PaukertFormer executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015.
Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
When it comes to otherworldly cool and high-tech Nissan products, you'd be forgiven for first thinking of models such as the GT-R sports car, or perhaps the company's Leaf EV. Nissan's pickup trucks? They're fine and all, but they'd be a few rungs further down the list.
One thing that trucks are really good for, however, is towing whatever cool and high-tech toys you have lying around. In the case of the European Space Agency, they just so happened to have a new mobile astronomy lab that needed toting. And while it undoubtedly took more than a few emails and blank checks, Nissan has come up with what looks to be an ideal solution -- the Navara Dark Sky Concept.
Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept is a mobile interstellar observatory
Unveiled Wednesday at the Hannover Motor Show, an annual truck-centric expo in Germany, the Dark Sky Concept is based on the production Navara pickup -- a midsize truck sold overseas that's similar North America's long-serving Frontier. But this isn't just a simple graphic wrap job on a stock truck with a tow hitch. No, the Navara Dark Sky has been given a surprisingly thoughtful and thorough makeover by Nissan's UK design studio to make sure it's the right rig for dragging a custom trailer housing an ultra-high-power PlaneWave telescope.
Since pitch-black surroundings are pivotal for optimal telescope viewing, Nissan reasons that an off-road-minded truck like the Navara is just the thing for going well off the grid, where it can tow this astronomy gear far away from compromising light pollution. Fair enough. But a set of gnarlier tires fitted to custom wheels and details like an integrated winch and light bar are just the beginning of the modifications for star-chasing duty.
For starters, the Japanese automaker has taken steps to curb the truck's own light pollution. Both the truck and trailer can be operated employing exclusively red lighting, since that color of illumination is said to be least disruptive to night vision. Furthermore, reflective orange trim has been stitched onto the seats to help with cabin visibility without adding any light sources.
More interestingly, Nissan Design Europe, the Japanese automaker's London-based studio, has also found a novel way to leverage ProPilot Assist, the company's adaptive cruise-control and lane-centering tech that is spreading like kudzu throughout the company's passenger-car lineup. For the Dark Sky Concept, Nissan engineers have added new hardware and adapted the truck's existing radar sensors and onboard cameras to perform new tasks.
New functions include a tow-hitch alignment feature, an augmented blind-spot warning system that keeps the trailer's footprint in mind, and a special mode that uses the cameras and radar to scan the surrounding terrain to help seek out proper, stable parking for the trailer.
(We wouldn't be surprised to see at least some of those features make their way into a production Navara).
A truck like this wouldn't be complete without a unique look, and according to Nissan's official press release announcing the project, the exteriors of the Navara Dark Sky Concept and its trick matching trailer feature "nebula motifs using parametric patterning, and the interior brings together the deep hues of the night sky with the orange shades of a setting sun."
While the truck itself is cool, its double-axle off-road trailer may be even cooler. The custom-made trailer houses the observatory-grade telescope in a "special refrigerated atmosphere" to ensure the sensitive equipment stays thermally stable and properly calibrated. Like the truck itself, the trailer has an Leaf EV battery pack to power it, and the enclosure features a roof that opens to send the PlanetWave telescope's gaze skyward. The battery pack also helps power a special laptop station, UHF transmitter for data relaying and a Wi-Fi hotspot.
According to Nissan, the PlanetWave features a 40-centimeter primary mirror, large enough to seek out distant galaxies and get up close and personal with the detailing on Saturn's rings.
The best part about the whole interplanetary alignment between Nissan and the ESA? Nissan says it plans to donate the telescope after the Hannover show to further the agency's otherworldly research.
Now, if we could just get Nissan to finally give North American truck buyers a new Frontier with which to chase The Final Frontier, we'd really be over the moon.