NASA's Mars rover Opportunity was actually supposed to spend 90 days on Mars, which has in the end this turned into 15 years. A powerful dust storm has now brought the rover’s travels on the Red Planet to an end. The US space agency NASA had to declare that the mission had come to an end last Wednesday.
Opportunity was driven by motors from the Obwalden-based company maxon motor. “At the time, our researchers spent more than half their career on this project", explains Robin Phillips, Aerospace project manager at maxon motor, to the “Obwalder Zeitung”. Researchers at maxon are sad that Opportunity’s journey has had to end now, but the overwhelming feeling is one of joy: “We are happy and proud that we could make an important contribution to this successful mission with our drive systems”, says maxon CEO Eugen Elmiger.
Opportunity was supposed to look for evidence that water had previously existed on Mars. “The scientific goals were massively exceeded because we were able to view a bigger area and research more geological examples than planned”, says Phillips. Even the researchers at maxon were surprised that Opportunity survived for so long on Mars. “I am surprised at the large resistance to the day/night cycles. On Mars it is zero degrees in the daytime and minus a hundred at night”, says Phillips. This means there is tremendous stress on materials and connections.
Researchers from maxon must now say farewell to Opportunity, but can already look forward to the next big mission. The robot InSight, another Nasa robot powered by maxon, landed on Mars in November. It is due to receive the go-ahead to start moving on Mars this week. During a journey lasting around 30 minutes it is set to take pictures and send them back to Earth.
Another rover will be send to Mars in 2020. A helicopter will travel with it that will take the first aerial pictures of the Red Planet. maxon’s DC motors will also control the rotors.