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Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept tows mobile telescope for observing stars in remote locations

  • One-off specially modified Navara with mobile astronomy lab
  • Designed to access remote ‘dark sky’ locations to observe stars
  • New driver assistance tech and other hints at future production upgrades

Nissan loves to put its Navara pickup to unusual uses, and it’s topped the lot with this new Dark Sky Concept – a one-off demonstration model designed to tow a mobile astronomy lab to remote locations.

Developed in partnership with the European Space Agency, no less, the Navara Dark Sky features an observatory-grade telescope mounted within a specially created trailer, but also demonstrates an adapted range of high-tech driver assistance systems that we’ve got a sneaking suspicion may be making into production rather soon.

The Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept is on display at the 2018 IAA Commercial Vehicles show alongside the Navara N-Guard special edition.

>> A-Z of the IAA Commercial Vehicles show 2018

What is the point of the Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept?

ESA – the European Space Agency – is currently creating a high-precision 3D map of the night sky qusing a special satellite named Gaia, and has already mapped over a billion stars.

Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept - pretty sky, parked on  river spur

The Navara Dark Sky Concept is designed to support this project by allowing astronomers to conduct follow-up observations from Earth.

Earth-bound observations of the universe are best done away from the ‘night-time glow’ of light pollution created by populated areas, which means travelling to so-called ‘dark sky’ locations.

Since these are usually remote and hard-to-reach, a tough, off-road capable vehicle such as the Navara makes the ideal starting point for a bespoke towing and support vehicle.

How has the Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept been modified for its mission?

The Navara in question is powered by Nissan’s most-powerful 2.3-litre dCi twin-turbo diesel engine, which produces 190hp and 450Nm of torque, and is capable of towing 3.5 tonnes – so far so standard.

But as the pictures clearly show, alongside the natty paint job this Navara has raised off-road suspension and a number of special features that make it even more suitable for its task.

Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept - new bumper and built-in winch

The protruding wheelarch extensions incorporate lashing points, while the front of the Navara Dark Sky gains reinforced over-riders and a chin guard to protect the grille while travelling over rough terrain, together with a built-in winch to haul itself out of difficulty should the worst happen.

All of the exterior styling elements – which also include a redesigned rear bumper and side steps,  plus an extended roof structure to accommodate camping gear and a transmitter array – are made from what’s described as a ‘tough polymer’.

Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept - roof extension

There are additional lights fitted all around the Navara; these are either bright white for improved driving illumination or red to maintain the crew’s night vision when operating the mobile observatory, as requested by ESA. All the interior lighting is red for the same reason.

Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept - new four-point headlights

Finally, up front there are new ‘four-point’ projector headlights, which might just provide a hint at what a mid-life facelift for the Navara might bring – though we’re not anticipating one of those until around 2020.

>> New pickups coming soon - and recent launch round-up

Any interior changes for the Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept?

Alongside the red lighting, Nissan has fitted-out the Navara Dark Sky’s cab with Midnight blue and orange upholstery, complete with reflective orange piping to make features more identifiable in the dark.

Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept - midnight blue and orange seats

For the same reason the new laptop-retaining strap on the top of the central armrest – which has been specially widened to double as a workstation – is made from a luminescent material.

Gloriously, the floor mats are luminescent, too.

What’s in the Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept’s load area?

This features a number of non-standard storage compartments and a heavy-duty polymer load bed liner that incorporates aluminium rollers to make loading and unloading much easier.

Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept - load area with red lights

You’ll also find a pair of high-capacity portable batteries – based on similar technology used in Nissan electric vehicles, including the e-NV200 electric van – which are spare power units for the trailer containing the telescope.

The batteries not only lock into place, they can also be recharged by the Navara’s engine. The box they're stored in can be removed and used as a bench.

What’s special about the Navara Dark Sky Concept’s telescope and trailer?

The telescope is an ‘ultra-highpower PlaneWave’ unit with a 400mm primary mirror. We have no real idea what that means, but it can apparently see beyond Saturn and requires a specially refrigerated atmosphere to retain perfect calibration.

Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept - telescope

This is provided by the Navara Dark Sky’s custom-built off-road trailer, which is designed to maintain the correct temperature while the telescope is in transit through the use of carbonfibre, insulation and a built-in heating and  cooling ventilation system

Once the observation location is reached, the trailer’s motorised roof opens clamshell fashion and stabiliser legs are deployed – both operated  by remote control – granting the telescope secure access to the night sky.

Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept - side view with trailer

Power for all this is provided by a pair of Nissan batteries of the same type carried in the Navara’s load area.

Built-in Wi-Fi and UHF radio provide communication between the Navara, the telescope and the wider world.

What other new tech is fitted to the Navara Dark Sky Concept?

In a move that might possibly preview some forthcoming production technology, the Navara Dark Sky Concept is fitted with an enhanced range of driver assistance technology.

Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept - ProPilot button on steering wheel

This includes:

  • ProPilot – already available on the Nissan Leaf electric car, this is an active cruise control system that works with lane-keeping assistance technology to provide a step on the path towards self-driving cars; this is the first time it's been adapted for use with a trailer
  • Extended Intelligent Surround View Monitor – the 360-degree camera system already available on the Navara, but with is capability extended so that it shows you the position of the trailer as well
  • Extended Blind Spot Warning – covers the length of the trailer in addition to the pickup; Ford is about to put this technology on sale as part of the latest Transit and Transit Custom updates
  • Intelligent Tow Hitch Alignment – enables the Navara to hook itself up to the trailer autonomously

What will happen to the Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept after the IAA show?

No news on the pickup itself, but Nissan plans to donate the telescope in order to ‘pass on the spirit of exploration and adventure’.

If that means it doesn’t need the truck anymore, maybe it will let us have a go. Here’s hoping…

Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept - driving

Also read:

>> Nissan Navara pickup full review

>> Nissan Navara N-Guard special edition at the 2018 IAA Commercial Vehicles show

>> Everything vans and pickups at the 2018 IAA Commercial Vehicles show