Michelin® has had the honor of being the sole tire supplier for the Space Shuttle program since the first launch in 1981. Presently, Michelin® Aircraft Tire Corporation equips the shuttle with MICHELIN® Air® brand tires, a line of tires first introduced for the general aviation market in 1992.
A lot of work goes into being the sole supplier for NASA. Shuttle tires undergo extensive testing to help ensure they can support a shuttle landing at speeds up to 250 miles per hour. In addition to the routine checks for aircraft tires, space shuttle tires must also undergo X-ray analysis, and be tested against NASA's own stringent standards before being mounted on the shuttle.
Surprisingly, a space shuttle tire is not much larger than a truck tire. But a main landing gear tire can carry three times the load of a Boeing 747 tire or the entire starting line-up of a NASCAR race—40 race cars—all hitting the pavement at up to 250 miles per hour.
Facts and Figures
- The Space Shuttle has four main landing gear tires—44.5x16.0-21, 34 ply, 263 mph—and two nose landing gear tires—32x8.8, 20 ply, 250 mph.
- Like most aircraft tires, the Space Shuttle tires are filled with nitrogen because of its stability at different altitudes and temperatures. Due to the extremely heavy loads, these bias ply tires are inflated to 340 psi (main gear) and 300 psi (nose gear).The main landing gear shuttle tires are only used one time, and the nose landing gear tires are used for two landings.
- Since weight is of extreme importance, Michelin® designs the tires with a minimum amount of tread to conserve weight, allowing for larger payloads. A few pounds may not seem to make much difference, but when you add up all of the ways to decrease weight throughout the Shuttle it can have a significant impact.
- Space Shuttle tires are manufactured exclusively in Norwood, North Carolina.