We've always been awed by the inventions of NASA when they reach for the stars like heatshields, the insulin pump, and even memory foam for a good night's rest. And now, they've got another one that's truly interesting, at least if you intend on driving on a different world.
NASA's Glenn Research Center has just created a new type of tire, one that can be used for space exploration, particularly for Mars. They call it the SMA tire, or the shape memory alloy tire.
As the name states, the mesh on the tire is made of a metal. Previous spring tires developed by NASA used steel, but they encountered problems with deformation over simulated Martian terrain in the lab. And so they came up with a new solution: a new alloy called nickel titanium.
The new material was formed into a unique mesh to build the tire that they tested in the lab and even on a Jeep Wrangler. The researchers state that the new nickel titanium shape memory alloy can resist deformation up to thirty times more than conventional materials, giving the tire a unique characteristic that is vital for rovers or land-based craft for extra-terrestrial exploration.
NASA says the new SMA tire allows heavier loads to be carried for the same mass and volume, and the design does not sink as much as rigid wheels. The tires will also enable potential manned missions to move on the Martian surface with more speed and improved durability due to the absorption qualities of the metal.
The SMA tire is the latest in the evolution of a long line of tires meant for space exploration that began in the 1970's with the unmanned Soviet Lunokhod lunar rover, the manned Apollo lunar rover and the Mars rover. The spring tire design was originally developed in the 2000's as a modern interpretation of the Apollo lunar rover's design, and was further redeveloped with the new nickel titanium material.