Moving vehicles around on the Moon or Mars isn’t quite like driving your car around the block here on Earth. Aside from the obvious differences in atmosphere and appropriate driving surfaces, it’s significantly more difficult to change out faulty or damaged equipment millions of miles away. NASA has been working on wheel and tire design for decades, and the need for light yet durable wheels has taken research in a few different directions. Most recently, spring tires have looked like the way to go, though there was some concerns over their durability. A chance meeting between colleagues at NASA lead to the construction of Nickel Titanium spring tires, and that combination may just have what it takes.
While NASA is constantly striving to innovate in ways that will improve not only space travel but also life on Earth, there was a more pressing need recently. The Mars Curiosity rover has seen more damage than expected to its wheels, which has required some alterations to its course to make sure it will be able to fully complete the research and observations that it was sent to accomplish. NASA hoped that spring tires would be the answer. Early results using spring steel were mostly very good, though some of their early attempts met with “Plastic Deformation” (dents, they’re dents, NASA).
That may be changing with the inclusion of Nickel Titanium to the mix. In recent tests, the new tires were able to rebound even when compressed down to the hub or axle, returning quickly to their original shape. You can see some of the tests at JPL’s Mars Life Test Facility track in the video below. Be warned, audio is a bit loud.
There’s no current timeline for when we might see these tires in NASA-related activities. Even less of a timeline on when we might see spring tires in more terrestrial endeavors. The idea and tech behind these tires is definitely pretty cool though.Source: NASA