Fort Wayne Metals and NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland are advancing shape memory alloy material technology for innovative rover tires that could be used to support the agency’s Artemis exploration efforts on the moon.
The two organizations have previously collaborated on highly engineered Nitinol materials for many aerospace applications, including use in prototype spring tires for Mars rovers. The current collaboration between Fort Wayne Metals and NASA Glenn includes studying the anticipated operating conditions on the moon and initial Nitinol materials development for various lunar applications.
Nitinol, a shape memory alloy, is superelastic because of its unique ability to undergo deformation and return to its original shape. That mechanical property – known as shape memory – transcends traditional materials performance and provides engineers with an extremely tough, lightweight material capable of performing numerous tasks across a wide range of temperatures and conditions.
“Nitinol materials have proven they enhance our ability to build innovative, durable tires for Mars, but the moon presents an entirely different set of challenges,” says Dr. Santo Padula, materials research engineer at NASA Glenn. “We will need to take what we’ve learned developing advanced shape memory alloy tires for Martian conditions and adjust our approach to ensure these materials can support human and robotic exploration of the moon’s South Pole.”
While a rich destination for scientific discovery, the lunar South Pole poses several environmental challenges, including extreme cold and unknown terrain features. Materials engineers at Fort Wayne Metals and NASA are experimenting and chemically-engineering future Nitinol materials to adapt to those harsh conditions and allow crewed and uncrewed rovers to successfully explore uncharted regions of the moon.
“As a leader in shape memory and superelastic technology development, Fort Wayne Metals will apply its materials knowledge and processing capabilities along with NASA to explore shape memory alloys capable of meeting the performance requirements for a lunar mission,” says Drew Forbes, Senior Engineer in Research and Development at Fort Wayne Metals.
Fort Wayne Metals expects to produce lunar environment-ready Nitinol materials and have commercial off-the-shelf supply available by 2026 for use by future lunar rover providers.