The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company will be honored with the R&D 100 Award for an airless tire capable of transporting large, long-range vehicles across the surface of celestial bodies such as the moon or Mars. The 44th Annual R&D 100 Awards ceremony, billed as the “Oscars of Innovation”, was held in Orlando, Florida. The tire, developed last year, is constructed out of 800 load bearing springs. It is designed to carry much heavier vehicles over much greater distances than the wire mesh tire (which Goodyear also contributed to) that was previously used on the Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). The new tire could allow for broader exploration and the eventual development and maintenance of planetary outposts. It might also have applications on Earth.
The Spring Tire was installed last year on NASA’s Lunar Electric Rover test vehicle and put through its paces at the “Rock Yard” at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston where it performed successfully. According to Goodyear engineers, development of the original Apollo lunar mission tires, and the new Spring Tire were driven by the fact that traditional rubber, pneumatic (air-filled) tires used on Earth have little utility on the moon. This is because rubber properties vary significantly between the extreme cold and hot temperatures experienced in the shaded and directly sunlit areas of the moon. Furthermore, unfiltered solar radiation degrades rubber, and pneumatic tires pose an unacceptable risk of deflation.