maxon precision motors, inc.
Taunton, MA
508 677 0520
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NASA recently sent its fifth rover to Mars. Its main mission is to collect soil samples that will be analyzed on Earth at a later time. The rover will also carry a helicopter that will perform the first flights on the Red Planet. maxon precision motors, inc. revealed that a number of its precision DC and BLDC motors were designed into the Perseverance rover to allow it to accomplish a variety of mission-critical tasks.

This isn't the first time maxon's motors have been to Mars. Their drives have been used in virtually every successful robotic mission over the last three decades, meaning there are now more than 100 of them on the Red Planet.

An Atlas V rocket launched 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 will be used 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 motors will also be used for sealing and depositing the sample containers.

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

Space missions place the highest demands on drive 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 fluctuate between -125 and +20 degrees Celsius and dust penetrates everywhere.

The Perseverance rover was expected to land on Mars sometime in February 2021 - but it won't be alone. A drone helicopter called Ingenuity will be attached to the underside of the rover. It weighs 1.8 kilograms, is solar powered and will perform several short flights, as well as take aerial images. The main goal 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 millimeters controlling the tilt of the rotor blades and the direction of flight. The drives 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 kilometers. The drone helicopter has flown in a simulated test environment in the JPL laboratory, but whether it will lift off on Mars remains to be seen.

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Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2020 issue of Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine.

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