First Mars helicopter to fly with maxon technology

The new rover to Mars will launch in 2020 and include a small helicopter to take the first aerial photos of the Red Planet. The rotors will be controlled by DC motors from Obwalden-based maxon motor.

An artistic impression of the Mars helicopter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
An artistic impression of the Mars helicopter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

U.S. space agency NASA will be sending a helicopter to the Red Planet on the upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission. The helicopter will undertake several autonomous flights, each lasting up to 90 seconds. Inflight images of Mars will be sent back to earth for the very first time. The helicopter could serve as a 'flying eye' for the rover mission, exploring the surroundings and finding the best route for the rover.

An “enormous engineering effort” is required for the small helicopter to fly in the thin air on Mars, according to a maxon motor press release. The helicopter must therefore be particularly light and can only carry small batteries. This requires extremely energy-efficient components — a requirement filled by maxon motor’s DC motors.

Its motors have already proven themselves in several previous Mars missions and will now also be used in the new helicopter. Six DCX precision micro-motors with a diameter of 10 millimetres will be responsible for adjusting the inclination of the rotor blades.

The helicopter propulsion system is designed and built by AeroVironment, California-based specialists in building micro-air vehicles, with the support of experts from maxon motor. NASA approved the inclusion of the helicopter project in the Mars 2020 mission after a year of development work.

“Being part of another Mars pioneering project makes us incredibly proud and happy,” said Eugen Elmiger, CEO of maxon motor. The Obwalden-based company is also involved in the European Space Agency’sExoMars rover, which is also scheduled to launch in 2020. And on 26 November 2018, NASA’s InSight lander is set to land on Mars with a measurement probe powered by maxon drives.

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