NASA decided it was time to upgrade its rovers and make them more suitable for the harsh terrains they will have to face, so it started a collaboration with a tire company to improve the wheels of these rovers. The new tires can last longer and are a lot more suitable for the deranged surfaces present on the moon or on Mars.
The space agencies tried different kinds of wheel designs for the lunar rovers
NASA and ROSCOSMOS, the Russian Space Agency, looked at the wheel models used for the rovers during the first lunar mission. The model developed by ROSCOSMOS consisted of a wire mesh placed around the wheels, which had bicycle spokes. These were available on the lunar rover between 1969 and 1977.
In 1971, NASA used different wheels for the Apollo 14 rover. They were made of smooth rubber, but they had some inner canals filled with nitrogen. During the third NASA exploration mission on the moon, the wheels of the rover also had a wire mesh on them, but the frames were hard.
The new tires are more flexible and suitable for both rocks and sand
The brand new tires are an upgraded version of the old tires, but with plenty of improvements and adaptations to fit the lunar and Martian soil. After the collaboration with Goodyear, NASA came up with the Spring Tire, which is made of steel coils inserted within a soft mesh. The flexibility allows it to support even heavy weights, and the soft material is suitable both for sandy and for rocky surfaces.
NASA was convinced to rethink the wheels of its rovers after Curiosity faced a lot of damage during its expeditions on Mars. The Martian surface was covered in rocks, which put in danger the future of Curiosity’s established missions. Therefore, NASA understood it was time to rethink the design of the wheels. The next step is to produce more Spring Tires to add to the future rovers which are to explore the Martian surface.
Image Source: NASA