AKRON, OHIO : The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company will be honored with the R&D 100 Award for an airless tire capable of transporting large, long-range vehicles across the surface of celestial bodies such as the moon or Mars. The 44th Annual R&D 100 Awards ceremony, billed as the “Oscars of Innovation”, was held in Orlando, Florida.
The tire, developed last year, is constructed out of 800 load bearing springs. It is designed to carry much heavier vehicles over much greater distances than the wire mesh tire (which Goodyear also contributed to) that was previously used on the Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). The new tire could allow for broader exploration and the eventual development and maintenance of planetary outposts. It might also have applications on Earth.
According to Vivake Asnani, principal investigator for the project at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, the tire being recognized for an R&D 100 Award had to meet a significant change in requirements that required innovation. “With the combined requirements of increased load and life, we needed to make a fundamental change to the original moon tire,” he said. “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 Spring Tire was installed last year on NASA’s Lunar Electric Rover test vehicle and put through its paces at the “Rock Yard” at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston where it performed successfully.
“This tire is extremely durable and extremely energy efficient,” noted Jim Benzing, Goodyear’s lead innovator on the project. “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.”
According to Goodyear engineers, development of the original Apollo lunar mission tires, and the new Spring Tire were driven by the fact that traditional rubber, pneumatic (air-filled) tires used on Earth have little utility on the moon. This is because rubber properties vary significantly between the extreme cold and hot temperatures experienced in the shaded and directly sunlit areas of the moon. Furthermore, unfiltered solar radiation degrades rubber, and pneumatic tires pose an unacceptable risk of deflation.
According to Asnani, the Spring Tire does not have a “single point failure mode. What that means,” he said, “is that 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.”
Goodyear will have the Spring Tire on display at an exhibition being staged in conjunction with the R&D 100 Awards Ceremony in November.
The NASA John H. Glenn Research Center is one of NASA’s 10 field centers, empowered with the resources for developing cutting-edge technologies and advancing scientific research that address NASA’s mission to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research. Working in partnership with government, industry and academia, the center serves to maintain the U.S. economy’s global leadership while benefiting the lives of people around the world.
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