maxon DC motors are heading to Mars onboard NASA's Perseverance rover

In July, NASA will be sending its fifth rover to Mars. Its main mission is to collect soil samples that will be brought back to Earth and analysed. maxon's precision brushed and brushless motors will be used for various mission-critical tasks.

maxon's DC motors have been used in virtually every successful robotic mission to Mars over the last thirty years. There are now more than 100 DC motors on the Red Planet and there are likely to be more soon. The launch window for NASA's next mission opens on July 30th. An Atlas V rocket will launch the new Perseverance rover on its way to Mars, where it will be searching for signs of previous life on the planet. Its most important job is to take multiple soil samples, seal them in containers and deposit them on the surface of Mars so that a future mission can return them to Earth. Several maxon motors are employed to handle the samples inside the rover. For example, maxon DC motors are installed in the robotic arm, which moves the samples from station to station. maxon DC motors will also be used for sealing and depositing the sample containers.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), is carrying out the mission, and have asked maxon to produce 10 DC motor drive systems for the rover. As with almost all previous Mars missions, these DC motors are modified for the highly specialised purpose and based on standard products from maxon's catalogue. For the first time, NASA is using brushless DC motors, including: nine EC 32 flat and one EC 20 flat DC motor in combination with a GP 22 UP planetary gearbox. Working closely with JPL specialists, maxon engineers developed the drives over several years and tested them thoroughly to achieve the highest standards of quality.

Head of maxon’s Space Lab Robin Phillips says "We've learned a lot from this exciting project. We now have very broad expertise in space applications and have established quality assurance processes that meet the expectations of the industry. Customers from other industries such as the medical sector, where requirements are often similar, can also benefit from this know-how." Space missions place the highest demands on DC motor systems. This includes vibrations during the rocket launch, vacuum during the journey, impacts on landing and the harsh conditions on the surface of Mars where temperatures fluctu-ate between -125 and +20 degrees Celsius and dust penetrates everywhere. maxon

DC motors control the Mars helicopter

The Perseverance rover is expected to land on Mars on February 18, 2021 – but it won't be alone. A drone helicopter called Ingenuity will be attached to the underside of the rover. It’s solar powered, weighs 1.8 kgs and will perform several short flights and take aerial images. The main aim of this experiment is to test the concept for further drones of this kind. maxon has six brushed DCX motors with a diameter of 10 mm controlling the tilt of the rotor blades and the direction of flight. The DC motors are very light, dynamic and highly energy-efficient. These properties are crucial, because every gram counts on the Mars helicopter.

Flying on Mars is not easy. The atmosphere is extremely thin, roughly comparable to the conditions on Earth at an altitude of 30 kms. The drone helicopter has flown in a simulated test environment in the JPL laboratory. Whether it will lift off on Mars remains to be seen. First, other obstacles, such as the rocket launch, must be successful. "We hope that everything goes well and that we'll soon see our drives in action on Mars," says maxon CEO Eugen Elmiger. "We're all keeping our fingers crossed.".

For more information contact maxon motor Australia tel. +61 2 9457 7477.

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