Precision Micromotors

Maxon Precision Motors
Taunton, MA

It might have been a short flight for “Ingenuity,” but it was viewed as a big success for unmanned space flight. NASA's Mars helicopter flew over the surface of the Red Planet for about 40 seconds in April and landed back on its four legs. From NASA’s perspective, this was a historic event similar to the Wright brothers’ first controlled flight in 1903.

With the Mars helicopter, the concept of powered, unmanned, and autonomous flights on foreign planets is being tested. This is comparable to the first Mars rover “Sojourner,” which paved the way for scientific follow-up missions such as “Curiosity” and currently “Perseverance”. “Ingenuity” was scheduled to complete several flights over a period of 30 days, each lasting up to 90 seconds and reaching a maximum altitude of five meters.

The flight was also considered a great success for motor manufacturer maxon. The helicopter is equipped with six brushed DC motors, which have been specifically modified for this challenge. The DCX series of drives, with diameters of 10 millimeters, control the pitch of the rotor blades and the direction of flight for the helicopter, which weighs only 1.8 kilograms and is solar-powered.

The lightweight design is a prerequisite for successful flight on the Red Planet, where there is hardly any atmosphere, comparable to conditions at an altitude of 30 kilometers on Earth. “The biggest challenge in developing the motors was the extreme weight requirement,” says Aiko Stenzel, a design engineer at maxon. “Every tenth of a gram had to be saved to make the helicopter fly. What’s great is that despite the weight savings, we found a drive solution that has enough power to adjust the rotor blades. And this in the face of high vibrations and temperature fluctuations. “The standard variants of the DCX motors are available for everyone and can be configured online according to the individual customer specifications.”

Maxon’s drives are also used in the Perseverance rover. There are ten BLDC motors and a special gearbox that will be used, among other things, to handle the soil samples inside the rover. The first of these motors already successfully completed its first task by placing the Mars helicopter safely on the ground.

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