The innovative minds at NASA's Glenn Research Center developed a tire that could reinvent the wheel. The "Superelastic Tires" are simple in design but can handle difficult terrains.
'Spring' To 'Superelastic'
In the mid-2000s, NASA Glenn Research Center and Goodyear developed the "Spring Tire," a non-pneumatic tire made of several hundred coiled steels. It has the ability to support heavy loads while conforming to different terrains, even on rough terrain and sand. However, while the "Spring Tire" performed admirably during testing, the steel wires deformed when they rolled over a simulation of the Martian terrain.
They further developed the "Spring Tires" and replaced the steel wires with a shape memory alloy, which could handle 30 times the deformation without incurring permanent deformation, a replacement that led to the "Superelastic Tires."
Just like with the "Spring Tires," one looks at the "Superelastic Tires" and will know that it's entirely different from the tires that are known and used in vehicles every single day. The"Superelastic Tires" look oddly like chainmail armor and in some ways, they act like it too because the tires' non-pneumatic design allows it to go through rough terrain without the threat of being punctured.
As mentioned, the tires are made of nickel titanium, a shape memory alloy that is capable of enduring reversible significant strain. Compared to commonly used elastic materials, which can only bear 0.3 up to 0.5 percent of strain before yielding, the new design can handle up to 10 percent of strain, making it practically impervious to deformation.
The new tires are safe to use because they cannot be punctured, instead, they are strong and robust for use on different terrains. Also, they are simple, versatile, and lightweight because they do not need inner frames.
Apart from using the new tires on future Mars rovers, NASA believes they can also be used for practical uses for all-terrain vehicles, automobiles, military vehicles, aircrafts, heavy equipment, construction vehicles, and even in agricultural vehicles.
Curiosity's Broken Tires
The current rover rolling around Mars today, known as Curiosity Rover, has six solid aluminium tires with titanium spokes. However, in 2013, just a little over a year after it landed on Mars, Curiosity's tires experienced substantial damage when it was passing through an area with many sharp rocks because of Mars' rough terrain.
Since then, the wheels continued to incur dents and holes and just this year, two grousers on one of Curiosity's wheel broke. Although NASA stated that the broken wheels do not affect Curiosity's mission, perhaps the new tires could be useful for smoother future missions.