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NASA and Goodyear invent shape memory tyre to drive on Mars

NASA has presented its latest “tyre” innovation to equip future all-terrain vehicles designed for Mars or the Moon. This technology could even eventually be rolled out to passenger cars.

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The tyre developed by NASA can cross obstacles without damaging the wheel - Copyright © NASA

No air, no cares

You may be familiar with the airless tyres developed by Hankook or Toyo Tires. NASA has decided to go one step further by inventing a completely tyre-less wheel, in any case, one with no internal structure and no air.

Made from a titanium nickel alloy called “Nitinol”, this tyre has specific properties making it suitable for rolling over rough terrain. Its superelasticity and shape memory capacity allows it to bounce back after deformation and cross obstacles with ease.

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Copyright © NASA

Technology developed with Goodyear

Designing a tyre that doesn’t need air is a feat in itself. NASA already uses this type of “tyre” on exploration rovers such as Curiosity, which has been on Mars since 2012. In 2013, NASA noticed that the wheels were sustaining significant damage on Mars’ rough terrain, even potentially jeopardising the exploration mission. As a result, NASA started work on an airless concept tyre with shape memory capacity in collaboration with Goodyear. The tyre manufacturer has already participated in the development of tyres for lunar vehicles. 

More robust, lighter and capable of transporting heavier loads, the shape memory tyre is expected to be used for space missions in the not so distant future. NASA has also not ruled out the possibility of using these tyres on Earth, which is of course where we drive the most.

Watch the video of the tyre’s rolling test:

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