Goodyear to be OE in the ‘Final Frontier’
Goodyear, a major supplier of tyres on at least one planet in our solar system, is working with the NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) to significantly evolve its run-flat technology in order to boldly go where no run-flat has gone before. The project is being funded by a seed fund established by NASA’s Innovative Partnership Program (IPP), and the goal is to develop non-pneumatic tyres initially for use on the Moon and eventually on Mars. Any new technologies perfected along the way may also be deployed closer to home.
While extraterrestrial driving offers many advantages – an absence of traffic jams and speed cameras are but two of many – the boffins at NASA, after much study, have also come across a number of drawbacks. “The challenges associated with creating a lunar tyre are further complicated by the fact that there are no lunar roads,” commented NASA principal investigator Vivake Asnani. “Lunar tyres need to be designed to develop traction on sandy undulated terrain, in regions that humans have never even seen up close. Plus, the prospect of an immobilising ‘flat tyre’ would be devastating to the mission.” Mr. Asnani added that the rubber-pneumatic tyre design favoured by earthbound motorists does not have the “same utility” on the moon, owing to the “unique atmospheric characteristics of the operational environment.”
Vivake is a founding member of the Surface Mobility Technology team at GRC that was created in late 2005 in response to the announcement by President Bush in 2004 that the United States would embark on an initiative to further explore the moon and Mars. Vivake said Goodyear was selected to work with GRC because of its experience in previous lunar programs, understanding of vehicle dynamics and state-of-the-art computer modelling capabilities.
The Goodyear team will consist of a cross section of research and tyre technology associates at the Akron Technical Center. In the past year Goodyear has been evaluating the Apollo lunar rover wheel, prototype pneumatic tires and non-pneumatic concepts to build a baseline understanding of the mechanics of these wheels and the challenges of the lunar environment. According to Joe Gingo, Goodyear’s executive vice president and chief technical officer, this “out of this world” project is not a stretch for the tyre major’s engineers. “The mission performance goals for these tyres will push known tyre technology well beyond its comfort zone,” he said, “and I am confident we have the capabilities to do that.”
Goodyear Principal Investigator Dave Glemming said the decision to partner with NASA for this initiative was easy. “Not only will the outcome of this project deliver a product that can handle the performance capabilities required for lunar mobility and beyond, we expect the outcome will yield answers to how future non-pneumatic tyres may be designed for Earth applications.”
Although working on just a one-year timeline to develop and demonstrate a lunar tyre that fulfils NASA’s requirements, the group is building on technology from the first moon landing, Glemming said. In the 1960s, NASA funded over 10 years of intensive research at Goodyear and General Motors to develop the wire mesh moon tyre for the Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).
The LRV tyre was woven out of piano wire, in order to provide a soft, springy surface to contour to the ground and provide good ride quality. It had an appearance similar to the skeleton of a regular tyre. This approach worked very well, because the Moon’s lower gravity meant that each LRV tyre was only required to support about 60 pounds of weight and be used for a maximum of 75 miles. The new fleet of lunar vehicles will require tyres to support about 10 times this weight and last for up to 100 times the distance. A tyre that would meet such requirements would also be useful for commercial applications on Earth, Glemming added.
To extend the utility of this wire mesh tyre, the team is first analysing the original design with the assistance of computer modelling tools. Exact replicates of the tyres are also being manufactured and tested to determine how and why their load and lifespan are limited. Essentially, the tyres will be loaded and cycled until they fail. The Goodyear tire designers and research engineers at NASA GRC will then iteratively design, build, and laboratory-test concept tyres to mitigate the failures; the exact nature of these design changes has not at this time been disclosed. A set of 12 tyres will be built by winter of 2009 and demonstrated on the new NASA Chariot roving vehicle at the Johnson Space Center in Texas. Stocks of the new tyre are not expected to arrive in HiQ outlets any time soon.