A new Spring Tyre developed by NASA and Goodyear was installed on NASA’s Lunar Electric Rover test vehicle and put through its paces at the Johnson Space Center’s “Rock Yard” in Houston. The new Spring Tyre is meant to carry much heavier vehicles over much greater distances than the wire mesh tire previously used on the Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).
What exactly is a Spring Tyre? No, it’s not a seasonal tyre like winter tyres. It’s actually a tyre that uses 800 load bearing springs. The spring design contours to the surface on which it’s driven to provide traction. The energy used to deform the tyre is returned when the springs rebound. This design does not generate heat like a normal tyre. Lead innovator Jim Benzing from Goodyear said the tyre design is extremely durable and energy efficient.
Traditional rubber tyres have little utility on the moon, thus the use of wire mesh tires and soon, the Spring Tyre. Rubber properties vary significantly between the extreme cold and hot temperatures experienced in the shaded and directly sunlit areas of the moon. Unfiltered solar radiation (the moon has no atmosphere) also degrades rubber, and rubber tyres also run the risk of deflation as it needs to be filled with air. With the Spring Tyre, there is no single point of failure. A hard impact that may cause the rubber tyre to puncture and deflate will only affect one spring out of the 800 load-bearing springs on a Spring Tyre.
What this extended carrying distance and capacity means is that broader exploration of the moon will be enabled and hopefully it will eventually lead to the development and maintenance of a lunar outpost.
Perhaps one day all of this research will end up improving the way we design our vehicle’s contact patches. Michelin has also toyed with the idea of a new type of wheel called the Tweel and it recently announced a new lunar wheel based on the tweel.
Look after the jump for a NASA video on the new Spring Tyre.