TAUNTON, MA—NASA’s “Ingenuity” autonomous helicopter that is flying above the surface of Mars is being hailed as the 21st century equivalent of the first controlled flight by the Wright brothers in 1903. The lightweight device is powered by six micromotors produced by Maxon Precision Motors Inc.
The brushed DC motors have been modified for the mission to the red planet, where there is hardly any atmosphere. 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 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.
“Despite the weight savings, we found a drive solution that has enough power to adjust the rotor blades,” explains Stenzel. “And, this in the face of high vibrations and temperature fluctuations."
Maxon's drives are also used in the “Perseverance” rover that is exploring the surface of Mars. It features 10 BLDC motors and a special gearbox to handle soil samples inside the vehicle.