Future Mars rovers or moon buggies might be riding the wings of Goodyear spring-based tires. This high-tech tire just won a 2010 R&D 100 award, also known as the “Oscar of Innovation,” from the editors of R&D magazine.
The tire was invented last year in a joint effort between NASA and Goodyear, and was tested out on NASA’s Lunar Electric Rover at the Rock Yard at the Johnson Space Center. The spring tire builds upon previous versions of the moon tire, and the improvements enable it to take larger (up to 10 times) rovers up to 100 times further, NASA scientists explained to Gizmag:
“With the combined requirements of increased load and life, we needed to make a fundamental change to the original moon tire,” said Vivake Asnani, principal investigator for the project at NASA’s Glenn Research Centre in Cleveland. “What the Goodyear-NASA team developed is an innovative, yet simple network of interwoven springs that does the job. The tire design seems almost obvious in retrospect, as most good inventions do.”
The tire is made up of 800 helical springs, which simulate the flexibility of an air-filled tire. Because there are so many springs, the tire can’t completely fail all at once, like a punctured air-filled tire would, Asnani said in the Goodyear press release:
“A hard impact that might cause a pneumatic tire to puncture and deflate would only damage one of the 800 load bearing springs. Along with having this ultra-redundant characteristic, the tire has a combination of overall stiffness yet flexibility that allows off-road vehicles to travel fast over rough terrain with relatively little motion being transferred to the vehicle.”
Tires used for off-world adventures have to be durable. Goodyear’s engineers note that the moon’s lack of atmosphere leaves the tires open to a beating from unfiltered solar radiation, which would degrade traditional rubber (meaning more flat tires in a world without roadside assistance). The flexible spring-based tire is well suited to the lunar surface, Jim Benzing, Goodyear’s lead on the project, told Gizmag:
“The spring design contours to the surface on which it’s driven to provide traction. But all of the energy used to deform the tire is returned when the springs rebound. It doesn’t generate heat like a normal tire.”
The tire might also be useful on earth–perhaps on military vehicles where flats can be dangerous.
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