- Bridgestone Tires is partnering with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to develop a special tire that can withstand harsh conditions on the moon.
- Along with JAXA, the tire company is working with Toyota, which is developing designs for the rover itself.
- Bridgestone revealed updated designs for its lunar tires at the Commercial Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year.
If you think driving on beach sand is bad, try rolling around on the moon. Lunar regolith, a mishmash of dust, rock, and other debris on the lunar surface, is one of the most significant challenges we face in traveling to our closest celestial neighbor.
And that’s not just because it’s superfine, ultra abrasive, and lodges itself in the tiniest crevices, but because it also carries an electrostatic charge. (The only other place in our solar system to have this is Hyperion, the distant and highly underrated moon of Saturn.) So researchers and engineers are hoping to develop tech that will allow us to explore our dusty neighbor safely.
That’s where Bridgestone comes in. The venerated tire company, which has been around since 1931, is developing a special type of tire that will be perfectly equipped to trek along the lunar surface without all of the hassle. Bridgestone has partnered with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which plans to establish a base on the moon in 2029, and Toyota, which is developing a specialized rover.
While lunar rovers of the Apollo era traveled as far as 22 miles—a good distance compared to the mission's famed "small steps"—JAXA's souped-up rover will shuttle up to four astronauts and could log as many as 6,000 miles on the lunar surface. (Yes, you read that right.) The new rims are a far cry from the Apollo-era wheels of the past, which were coated in a mesh of zinc-coated piano-wire and then wrapped up in titanium treads.
Bridgestone revealed one wheel design—made of two lobes of braided steel, woven together, and inspired by the toes of a camel—at last month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “It’s biomimicry,” Bridgestone America’s chief technology officer, Nizar Trigui, told Popular Science. “The pattern helps the tire carry the load without penetrating too deeply into the sand.”
For now, it's time to test these tough tires under simulated lunar conditions, like crushed-up lava rock and broken glass. 2029 is still far off in the future, but we're looking forward to watching the pieces come together before launch.
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