maxon Story

maxon and the Perseverance rover

Template DriveTech Perseverance roverTemplate DriveTech Perseverance rover

Press release, July 2, 2020: In July, NASA will be sending 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’s precision motors will be used for numerous mission-critical tasks.

When it comes to Mars, maxon’s drive systems are par for the course. The electric motors made in Switzerland have been used in virtually every successful robotic mission over the last three decades. There are now more than 100 of them on the Red Planet. Soon there will be more, because NASA's next mission starts on July 17. An Atlas V rocket will launch the 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 at a specified site so that a future mission can return them to Earth. Several maxon motors will be used in the rover to handle the samples. They are installed in the robotic gripper 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) is carrying out the mission, and asked maxon to produce ten drives for the rover. As with almost all previous Mars missions, these drives are based on standard products from maxon’s catalog, with a few modifications. For the first time, NASA is using brushless DC motors: 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 subjected them to rigorous testing to achieve the highest standards of quality. “We’ve learned a lot from these exciting projects,” says Robin Phillips, head of the maxon SpaceLab. “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 drive systems. This includes vibrations during the rocket launch, the 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.

maxon DC motors control the helicopter that will fly over Martian ground

The Perseverance rover is expected to land on Mars on February 18, 2021 – but it won’t be alone. A helicopter drone called Ingenuity will be attached to the underside of the rover. Weighing 1.8 kilograms, the solar-powered drone will perform several flights and take aerial images. The main goal of this experiment is to test the concept for further drones of this kind. Drive specialist maxon was again involved in the design of this device. Six brushed DCX motors with a diameter of 10 millimeters control the tilt of the rotor blades and thereby the direction of flight. The drives are ultra-light, dynamic, and highly energy efficient. These properties are crucial, because every milligram 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 helicopter drone 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.”

The Swiss drive specialist

maxon is a developer and manufacturer of brushed and brushless DC motors. Its range also includes gearheads, encoders, controllers, and entire mechatronic systems. maxon drives are used wherever the requirements are particularly high: on Mars for example, where maxon motors power NASA’s rovers, and in portable surgical devices, humanoid robots, and high-precision industrial applications. To maintain its leadership in this demanding market, the company invests a considerable share of its annual revenue in research and development. Worldwide, maxon has more than 3000 employees at nine production sites and is represented by sales companies in more than 30 countries.

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Left: The modified EC 32 flat drive. Nine of these drives are used in the Perseverance rover. Center: The EC 20 flat with GP 22 UP gearhead. Right: DCX 10 motors used to control the tilt of the rotor blades in the helicopter that will fly on Mars.

Image credits: maxon

Author: maxon France

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