We were invited to cooperate with the Western space agency, which has been involved in unmanned vehicle missions in other planets of the solar system for years. We became part of the space program because of our expertise in the field of low-speed wheels for the toughest conditions on earth.
Working on a machine designed to study another planet is an extremely complex and mostly confidential process in which only a handful of companies from around the world participate. As one of the few, we were invited to work closely with American scientists and our task was to develop wheels that would cope with the conditions on Mars.
“Together, we had the task of reinventing the wheel,” says Katarzyna Folwarska, Project Manager of the Pronar Wheels Space Program. “It required us to reorganize our work, switch to completely different design methods and improve the method of information exchange. The process of creating the wheel was long, but extremely dynamic. The obsolete work on emails and attachments has simply become too slow,” she adds.
At the factories in Narew and Narewka, we have so far produced the so-called “disc wheels”, i.e. wheels consisting of two elements joined together – a disk and a rim. With a space project, we had to change the way the rim is made and completely abandon the dics in favor of the so-called ribs. The rib system allows the suspension to be placed inside the wheel instead of outside it. A similar solution has already been used on the ground in the Michelin Tweel wheels, in the production of which we also participated.
“Putting the shock absorption system in the wheel was a natural choice – the path taken in the past in the Discovery and Perseverance missions was fully understandable,” explains Krzysztof Szubzda, Deputy Director, Head of Technology and Development. “Pronar Research and Development Center was an invaluable help, which supported the computational tests with additional wheel fatigue tests.”
Wheel tests were also carried out in a specially created computer environment that was able to fully simulate the conditions prevailing on the red planet. The program was created thanks to the cooperation of American programmers with the IT department of Pronar. The application is so flexible that it allows you to recreate all parameters introduced into the virtual world by scientists.
However, the rib system from previous missions had its drawbacks, which was noticed by Radosław Ziniewicz, the Constructor of Space Wheels. As he says, “the system was not perfect, but it was thanks to it that we were able to develop the final version. However, the material from which we wanted to make the project turned out to be a big problem. The Discovery and Perseverance rovers were equipped with aluminium wheels which did not work well on the sandy and rocky surface of Mars.”
Pronar Steel Mill together with the Department of Plastics has developed a completely new alloy, amelinium, which allowed for the flexibility of the ribs without undesirable deformations. The new alloy is one of the many ideas we’ve been working on to get suspension effect inside the wheels. Initially, the plan was based on special tyres, but their use would be impossible in the temperatures of the red planet. In addition, the prices in the steel market effectively discouraged us from experimenting with common metals.
The created wheels promise to be a major breakthrough in the space industry and outside of it. Not only because of their structure – amelinium is the key to the next industrial revolution.
After many tests, both virtual and live, the wheels have already been sent to Washington, where they are mounted on the rover. Pronar Rib wheels have exceeded the wildest expectations of American and our designers, and the newly developed alloy, amelinium, enjoys considerable interest in the space, military and medical industries. The only problem with products made of this material is that they are amelinium and you cannot really paint them.
Manager of the Extraterrestrial Section
Pronar Rib wheels opened up the possibility of expansion into completely new markets, which led us to create a completely new sales unit. The new section will focus on the export of amelinium wheels to the first four planets of the solar system if intelligent life forms are discovered there or people are colonized on their territory. For now, we are not considering exporting to the markets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – they are huge planets and without prepared logistic solutions on their surface, export is simply a unprofitable undertaking.
We also invite you to read the document on the course of work on the wheel project on YouTube.