The world’s first moon motorcycle uses “balloon” wheels to get around
German think tank Hookie designed Tardigrade, a lightweight, lunar electric motorcycle concept for NASA’s moon exploration.
Named after microscopic animals that survive in the adverse conditions associated with outer space, Tardigrade is a drivable prototype that derives from the fictional concept of a lunar exploration vehicle.
“[It] is not a crazy custom bike,” says Hookie, the motorcycle brand behind the design and it’s right. For the most part, it looks like any other futuristic concept e-bike. It uses an electric drivetrain from Swedish company Cake, which uses 10 kW motors in most of its motorcycles. Other than that, every other component was drawn in-house.
Hookie has used laser-cut aluminum frames to further reduce weight to an impressive 134kg, and Kevlar to protect the motorcycle and drivetrain from the increased radiation in space. Mudguards, panels and the inlays of the rims were 3D-printed from UV-resistant thermoplastics. Small parts were sintered from nylon using laser beams.
However, the biggest challenge was the construction of two highly innovative balloon wheels, ultra-light “balloon wheels” with 24 x 7 inch alloys. They consist of five millimeter thin, star-shaped spokes and can carry the overall weight of about 140 kilograms with ease.
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The tires were 3D-printed using 12 polyurethane tread modules for each wheel, which are secured directly onto the rims. This enabled a new tire system that allows individual parts to be replaced, instead of the whole tire itself, should a module become damaged on the lunar surface.
The Tardigrade prototype made its debut at the Petersen Automotive Petersen Museum in Los Angeles as part of the ADV Overland exhibition, which runs from July 3, 2021, through March 27, 2022. If there is a possibility of it becoming a reality, its lightweight frame could allow NASA to use much smaller lunar landers, thereby reducing costs and fuel usage.
NASA has acknowledged the Tardigrade project and has said it would be amazing to discuss with Hookie about a potential future collaboration. After all, the project is striking but the idea of an electric moon motorcycle isn’t that far-fetched. At the time of the Apollo missions, NASA experimented with its own electric scooter, tested for use on the surface of the moon but eventually beaten out by the four-wheeled electric Lunar lander.
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