Michelin’s Lunar Wheel Prototype at the 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours
July 5, 2024

Michelin’s Innovation on the Moon

Michelin is set to unveil an airless lunar wheel prototype at the Le Mans 24 Hours, designed to meet NASA's specifications for its Artemis programme. This prototype highlights Michelin's expertise in composite materials, a key element in the company's growth. Michelin's innovative prowess extends from ordinary roads to the racetrack and now, to the Moon.

The Artemis Programme

NASA's Artemis programme aims to explore the Moon’s south pole, an uncharted territory, to gather scientific data and search for water ice. Michelin is developing an airless wheel for the programme's rover, which must operate on the Moon for a decade, carry two astronauts, explore remote areas, and collect samples. This rover will independently travel between landing points, a significant advancement from NASA’s Apollo missions (1961-1972).

Michelin's Space Heritage

From 1995 to 2007, Michelin designed and produced tyres for NASA’s space shuttles, spanning 135 missions. Building on this experience, Michelin began collaborating in 2021 with Intuitive Machines, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and AVL to develop wheels for the Artemis lunar rover. This collaboration began after responding to NASA’s call for tenders.

Michelin’s Lunar Wheel Prototype at the 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours

Challenges on the Moon

Michelin’s lunar wheel faces several challenges:


With the Moon's gravity at one-sixth of Earth’s, climbing sandy slopes up to 20 degrees on loose ground requires durable wheels with optimal grip and a large contact patch, similar to how snowshoes distribute weight on snow.

Atmospheric Conditions

The lack of atmosphere on the Moon exposes materials to high UV levels and rapid ageing. The wheels must withstand constant exposure to the sun, UV light, and electromagnetic radiation, affecting their performance and durability.

Low Rolling Resistance

The rover will spend considerable time in the shade, limiting its ability to recharge via solar panels. Michelin's design minimises energy consumption by reducing rolling resistance, thus preserving the rover's autonomy.

Abrasion Resistance

The Moon’s southern pole has abrasive, uneroded sand. To function reliably over 10,000km/10 years, the wheels need to be made from resilient materials that maintain their properties across various terrains, including sand, rocks, and craters.

Extreme Temperatures

The Moon experiences temperature variations from nearly -250°C to +100°C. Only exceptional materials, capable of deforming and maintaining integrity, can survive such extremes.

Testing and Innovation

Michelin uses the volcanic terrain of France’s Massif Central, near its Clermont-Ferrand headquarters, to simulate lunar soil for testing. This region's similarity to lunar soil is ideal for development purposes.

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Michelin’s Lunar Wheel Prototype at the 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours

Michelin’s Innovation on Roads and Beyond

The Michelin Pilot Sport Endurance tyres for the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Hypercars and the airless lunar tyres, both developed in Clermont-Ferrand, showcase Michelin’s capacity for innovation and performance longevity. Michelin’s commitment to tyre longevity is evident in its motorsport achievements. Since 2011, Michelin’s endurance racing tyres have covered over 700 kilometres at Le Mans 24 Hours with consistent lap times, reducing tyre consumption compared to the early 2000s. Recently, at the 6 Hours of Imola in Italy, a Ferrari prototype completed 129 laps (632km) on a single set of tyres.

Michelin’s expertise is driving new forms of mobility and applications, reinforcing its position at the forefront of innovation not only in motorsport and on roads but also in space.

Michelin’s Lunar Wheel Prototype at the 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours
Michelin’s Lunar Wheel Prototype at the 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours