The first controlled aircraft in history to be used on a planet other than Earth, NASA’s Mars helicopter is laying the groundwork for future airborne exploratory missions to other planets. The project has been developed by a team of engineers, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), AeroVironment, and maxon.
Each year the U.S. National Aeronautic Association (NAA) awards the Robert J. Collier Trophy to mark major achievements in aviation, such as one of the Wright brothers in the 1910s and the Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960s. This year, the Mars helicopter team was awarded the Collier Trophy in Washington DC on June 9th.
“It wasn’t easy to meet the incredibly strict requirements of the mission. These successful flights exceeded all our expectations”, says maxon CEO Eugen Elmiger.
The helicopter, manufactured by AeroVironment, is an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) specialist, under contract from JPL. For maxon, the Mars expedition is a highlight in its space sector experience. Both the Perseverance rover as well as the Ingenuity helicopter use maxon motors.
Six precision micro motors (DCX10 S) with a diameter of 10 millimeters are used to move the swashplate; Swashplates are used on helicopters to adjust the angle of the rotor blades and to control the helicopter’s flightpath.
According to maxon, the air on Mars is comparable to the conditions on Earth at an altitude of 30 kilometers, so the helicopter has to be extremely light (1.8 kilograms) and can only carry small batteries that must be highly energy-efficient. Thankfully, maxon's DC motors meet this requirement.
“We’re very proud to have joined the team of AeroVironment and JPL at the Collier Trophy award ceremony and share this great honor," says Florbela Costa, maxon’s SpaceLab project manager.
The SpaceLab is an organization within maxon that specializes in developing new, high-risk technologies for space missions, as well as supporting the growing commercial space market with high-reliability actuators that are suitable for the harsh space environment.