Canadians Redesign Tires for Use on Lunar Rovers

iRings lunar wheels undergo testing. Photo: Brad Jones/Neptec Design Group

McGill University Press Release

Creating a wheel for some of the worst potholes known to humankind is just one of the extraterrestrial challenges a team of McGill students and professors face in developing and testing a wheel prototype for the new Lunar Exploration Light Rover (LELR).

The new Canadian rover will be used during lunar exploration to carry payloads, cargo and crew, as well as enable drilling and excavation, manipulator and tool integration, and vision and state-of-the-art communications systems.

Mechanical Engineering Professor Peter Radziszewski is leading the team as part of an $11.5-million contract awarded by the Canadian Space Agency to Neptec Design Group.

Three sets of iRings prototype wheels. Photo: Brad Jones/Neptec Design Group.

“My students and I are thrilled to be on the Neptec Rover Team (NRT) as it will allow us to advance our earlier prototypes of lunar-friendly wheels and make a significant and innovative contribution to Canada’s space program,” said Radziszewski.

Radziszewski and his team began working on developing wheel prototypes in 2009, one of which – dubbed iRing – is made of an external chainmail “fabric” filled with granular particulate matter; sort of like a metal bean-bag chair shaped like a wheel. This distinctive design provides both flexibility and sturdiness when travelling over extremely bumpy lunar terrain.

Radziszewski is quick to recognize the efforts of fellow colleagues and many McGill students – nearly 60 so far from both the undergraduate and graduate programs – who have been and will be involved on the wheel portion of this project and other aspects of the rover’s traction system development. “This effort is really a nexus of teaching and research. We have built a bank of expertise in creating intellectual property that supports a Canadian space-mobility effort,” he said.

The final prototype of the lunar rover is expected to roll out in the spring of 2012.

On the Web:

To view videos and photos and to learn more about the iRing

About the Neptec Rover Team (NRT)

Neptec has brought together the industry’s leading technology experts to develop the new Lunar Exploration Light Rover (LELR) – an exciting new generation of space exploration technology. This highly experienced team has been working together to develop rover technology for the Canadian Space Agency for four years.

Lead Integrator

Neptec specializes in advanced space, defence and industrial systems and applications. Neptec maintains a reputation of quality and reliability in the design, manufacturing, installation and support of its sensor systems with the Space Shuttle, International Space Station, and other major space programs. With new solutions for aerospace, defence and industry, Neptec, a CSA/NASA prime contractor, continues to be a pioneer in the innovative use of mission-critical systems and applications.

Team Members (alphabetic)
COM DEV Canada is responsible for developing state-of-the-art communications for the rover. A division of COM DEV International Ltd., COM DEV Canada is primarily focused on the Canadian civil space market, specializing in spaceflight subsystems and instruments used in earth observation, space science and remote sensing. Technologies range from electronics to optical.  COM DEV International Ltd. is a global designer and manufacturer of space hardware. The company is a world leader in the production of space-qualified passive microwave equipment, specialized electronics and optical subsystems.

McGill University Department of Mechanical Engineering researchers will be responsible for lunar-appropriate wheel development for the rover. The McGill Faculty of Engineering is ranked as one of Canada’s preeminent engineering schools. It is renowned for its faculty expertise, exceptional student body, unparalleled teaching and research, and its commitment to interdisciplinary, inter-Faculty and inter-institutional approaches to problem solving. McGill University was founded in Montreal, Quebec in 1821 and is Canada’s leading post-secondary institution. McGill attracts students from more than 135 countries around the world with more than 6,800 international students of the 35,000 students. It has two campuses, 11 faculties, 10 professional schools, 300 programs of study and more than 35,000 students.

NGC Aerospace is responsible for providing support to the development of autonomous navigation of the rover. NGC Aerospace Ltd., located in Sherbrooke (Québec), is a high-tech Canadian SME offering analysis, design and simulation services for the control of space, aeronautical and terrestrial vehicles. Among its various activities, NGC designs and develops the innovative algorithms and real-time on-board software which enables the autonomous navigation, guidance and control of vehicles. NGC’s mission is to increase the autonomy, the performance, the reliability and the safety of intelligent vehicles while, at the same time, reducing their operational costs. NGC’s main clients are the international and national space agencies as well as many North American and European aerospace companies.

Northern Centre for Advanced Technology Inc. (NORCAT) is responsible for organizing and supporting the field deployment.  For over a decade, NORCAT – a not-for-profit, non-share incorporated company based in Sudbury, Ontario – has been a leader in occupational health and safety training, mine training, technology innovation and commercialization. NORCAT is a world leader in developing mining equipment for use on the lunar surface and analogue deployment management.

Ontario Drive & Gear Ltd. is responsible for the concept generation, design, and fabrication of the rover, for the frame, drive system, suspension, and wheels.  ODG is a world leader in the design and build of amphibious ATV vehicles. Founded in 1962, ODG is a world leader in amphibious vehicles and its industrial division has built a solid reputation for the design and manufacture of quality gears and transmissions. ODG’s capabilities include the latest in CNC gear cutting, CNC machining, gear shaving, broaching and key-seating.