Credit: Lockheed Martin/Goodyear

 

Transport on the Moon, dealing with one-sixth gravity and rough, cratered landscape is no trouble-free drive.

Tackling the issue of lunar vehicle tires is a new, well-rounded partnership struck between Lockheed Martin and the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. The work is focused on commercializing lunar mobility.

Airless tire technology

There’s need for lunar surface transportation, vehicles driven by astronauts or operated autonomously without crew, said Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin.

Credit: Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company

“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,” Shireman said in a Lockheed Martin statement.

For its part, Goodyear is drawing from its advanced airless tire 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

Longer distances, greater temperature extremes

It’s a good time to look back on the Apollo program, today saluting the first human touchdown on July 20, 1969.

Apollo 16 exploration site.
Credit: NASA/Washington Heritage Register

Several follow-on missions included Lunar Roving Vehicles (LRVs), purposely built for just a few days of use on excursions within five miles of their landing sites. Three LRVs were driven on the Moon, one on Apollo 15 by astronauts David Scott and Jim Irwin, one on Apollo 16 by John Young and Charles Duke, and one on Apollo 17 by Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.

Given the NASA Artemis program, future missions will need to traverse rugged terrain over much longer distances while operating in greater temperature extremes.

Credit: NASA

Years of durability

New tire capabilities will need to be developed for years of durability and even survive the night that sees temperatures of below -250 degrees Fahrenheit and daytime temps of over 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Everything we learn from making tires for the Moon’s extremely difficult operating environment will help us make better airless tires on Earth,” said Chris Helsel, senior vice president, Global Operations and Chief Technology Officer at Goodyear.

The companies, along with MDA of Canada that will provide commercial robotic arm technology to be used on the human-rated lunar mobility vehicles, expect to have its first vehicle on the surface of the Moon in time to support NASA’s first landed mission.

That Artemis target time for the first woman and first person of color walking on the Moon is currently planned for 2025.

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