In our first instalment of this series on the most extreme members of the tyre family, we discussed the custom Michelins on board the vaunted Bugatti Veyron. Now, we take a look to the stars, to an even faster and more complex mechanical creature than that.
The space shuttle was the primary vehicle of the NASA Space Agency from the 1970s onward. Mounted on a triplet of solid-fuel rocket boosters, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the four space shuttles were created for their ability to be reused: after re-entry, they were landed in the manner of your typical jet. Notably hard -wearing, the four shuttles were able to be used and reused on 135 missions throughout its life, until the program was officially shut down in 2011.
Landing these shuttles presented a technical difficulty for tyre makers. Due to the presence of its re-entry heat shields, and given the unique stresses placed on the shuttle during launch, it is exceedingly heavy as an aircraft. When landed, the space shuttle weighted over three times the weight of a 747. The tyre pressure had to also cope with the enormous changes in atmospheric pressure experienced during the flight, the lack of space available for landing gear on board the shuttle, and the impact of hitting the tarmac at nearly 400km/h.
Engineers tackled these problems in a number of interesting ways. The pressure in the tyres during landing sits at a whopping 340PSI, to accommodate the weight of the aircraft, and the fact that the shuttle only incorporates six tyres total among its landing gear in the interest of space. The tyres themselves are inflated with nitrogen, rather than oxygen, as it is less reactive to atmospheric pressure. And to accommodate weight considerations, the tyres were created with no tread on them. Every little bit helps. The tyres were also replaced at the end of each mission.
And in thirty years of landings, they experienced precisely zero blowouts. Not a bad track record.
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