The wheels of the mars rovers

August 18th, 2012

A tour of JPL in 2005 left me charmed by the Mars Exploration rover wheel (the Spirit and Opportunity rover design). The 26 cm diameter wheel is milled from a solid block of aluminum. The black surface is anodized for added surface protection. Why black, I don’t recall. The spiral flexures (spokes) add a little suspension.

(image source)

The new wheel on Curiosity is twice as big at 50 cm. The tread is one piece of aluminum attached to a hub with 6 individually-fastened titanium flexures. The flexures extend axially from the hub, curve back towards the rim maintaining a radial profile, and finally bend almost tangentially to attach to the rim similar to the spirals from before. 

(image source)

(image source)

The holes in the wheels leave impressions in the soil that allow the scientists to measure distance. They also spell J-P-L in Morse code.

Both wheel designs are inspiring, and have me thinking of applications for human use. Shock-absorbing bicycle wheel or hub? Probably not, but what about uses other than wheels?

(Image source) Left to right: Exploration (Spirit/Opportunity), Sojourner, and Curiosity wheels.

More info on the Exploration wheels on NASA’s website here and on Curiosity’s wheels here.

Categories: Science and Technology
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