NASA has developed the ‘superelastic tire’, a game changing compliant tire as a viable alternative to the pneumatic tire. created with future mars missions in mind, the tires could be used also here on earth. evolving from the ‘spring tire’ – invented by NASA glenn and goodyear – and referencing the ‘apollo lunar tires’, the tire uses shape memory alloys that are capable of undergoing high strain as load bearing components.
Curiosity’s wheels have taken a lot of damage because they don’t have much give, and Mars rocks can be particularly jagged. NASA’s new chainmail type material, on the other hand, provides a lot more flexibility, while still being difficult to penetrate, as shown in the video below. In another configuration, the material could also be useful to NASA as an all-purpose, lightweight heat and debris shield for orbiting spacecraft.
It’s not just the chainmail-style configuration that makes the tires work, though. They’re also built from alloys like nickel-titanium (NiTi) that can deform up to 10 percent without losing their shape. “The use of a NiTi shape memory alloy yield a superelastic tire that is virtually impervious to plastic deformation,” according to the team at NASA’s Glenn Research center.
The tires probably won’t be on the next Mars rover, but could find their way to future designs, including crewed exploration vehicles. They could even be useful here on Earth. “The Superelastic tire offers traction equal or superior to conventional pneumatic tires and eliminates the possibility of puncture failures, thereby improving automobile safety,” NASA said.