Vehicle Tyres Designed for Extreme Temperatures in One Sixth Gravity on Crater-Filled Terrain
The Goodyear Tyre & Rubber Company supplied essential products for NASA’s Apollo program, including the Apollo 11 mission which landed on the Moon 53 years ago this month. The company will continue that tradition — focusing on lunar vehicle tyres — by joining Lockheed Martin in its development of a lunar mobility vehicle.
Since Apollo, Goodyear continued innovating alongside NASA to advance designs for a lunar vehicle tyre. The team of companies intends to be the first to establish extended-use commercial vehicle operations on the Moon. Goodyear brings its vast expertise in a mission-critical component to traverse the lunar surface, tyres.
“NASA’s Artemis program to live and work on the Moon has a clear need for lunar surface transportation that we intend to meet with vehicles driven by astronauts or operated autonomously without crew,” said Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin.
“We’re developing this new generation of lunar mobility vehicle to be available to NASA and for commercial companies and even other space agencies to support science and human exploration. This approach exemplifies NASA’s desire for industry to take the lead with commercial efforts that enable the agency to be one of many customers.”
Goodyear is drawing from its advanced airless tyre technology used on Earth with micro-mobility, autonomous shuttles, and passenger vehicles, to advance lunar mobility and withstand the challenging conditions on the Moon. The companies are already applying existing expertise to the project including testing concepts in lunar soil test beds.
“Everything we learn from making tyres for the Moon’s extremely difficult operating environment will help us make better airless tyres on Earth,” said Chris Helsel, senior vice president, Global Operations and Chief Technology Officer at Goodyear. “This will contribute to our end goal of enabling mobility no matter where it takes place. Just as important, it is an honour to write history with this prestigious company who knows how to make giant leaps in exploration and mobility.”
The Apollo lunar rovers were purposely built for just a few days of use on excursions within five miles of their landing sites. Future missions will need to traverse rugged terrain over much longer distances while operating in greater temperature extremes. New tyre capabilities will need to be developed for years of durability and even survive the night that sees temperatures of below -155 degrees Celsius and daytime temps of over 121 degrees Celcius.
Lockheed Martin leads this growing team by leveraging its more than 50-year-history of working with NASA on deep space human and robotic spacecraft, such as NASA’s Orion exploration-class spaceship for Artemis and numerous Mars planetary spacecraft. The company will also manage the development of the program’s commercial business operations and engagement with NASA and global space agencies. Lockheed Martin has also helped NASA explore every planet of our solar system and continues to develop new technologies for future space missions.
Another teammate, MDA of Canada, recently announced its commercial robotic arm technology will be used on the human-rated lunar mobility vehicles. The arm will provide valuable contributions as support for astronauts as well as enabling greater functionality of the rover on fully autonomous missions.
Together, the teams are applying unique perspectives and shared expertise to new challenges and market approaches that are being considered for the first time. The companies expect to have its first vehicle on the surface of the Moon in time to support NASA’s first landed mission that will have the first woman and first person of colour walk on the Moon, currently planned for 2025.
Ann Du Toit, photo Goodyear