Forget Chains On Your Tires, NASA Is Making CHAIN TIRES (Sort of)
So, you know how, when driving in heavy snow, people put chains on their tires to give them more traction?
Well, what if those tires were made of 100% chains?
This is what it looks like NASA has in mind for a set of wheels destined for use on its next Mars rover (although, of course, in reality, it’s more like a bunch of springs than chains). These tires are in development due to a particularly annoying problem for NASA, which is that the Curiosity rover has essentially blown a flat—one of its six solid aluminum wheels started showing cracks earlier this year in March, after only about 10 miles of travel.
That is hardly what we would call long-distance travel, although on the bright side this was an expected problem.
So, to solve this problem, NASA and Goodyear teamed up to make the new tire for the next rover (which was described as a “lunar Winnebago-type” rover). What looks like chains is a series of coiled wire made of nickel titanium, which is what is known as a “shape memory alloy.”
According to Santo Padula, the material scientist who NASA’s engineers consulted on the project, that term means that the metal’s atomic bonds don’t break as it is stressed, instead rearranging its molecules to “accommodate deformation.” The practical upshot is that the springs can be bent all the way down to the axle and spring (ha) back into shape. Here it is on a rig rolling over a gnarly-looking rock and off, fresh as a spring daisy (made of nickel titanium alloy).
These springy tires are still in testing, but would allow rovers much higher range of movement carrying heavier loads, and could even be applied to manned vehicles to move faster than current tires and rovers can.
Yup, that means they stuck it on a regular car to test it out.
Sadly, NASA has no plans to release these for public use, but if they eventually do, it wouldn’t be the first time a space-inspired technology made its way onto the market, so we will just be crossing our fingers and hoping.