April 21, 2021

MarsHelicopterCloseup400x275Two companies that have provided key components for the Mars Ingenuity helicopter, which this week conducted its first historic flight on Mars, have congratulated the NASA team for its success. Both maxon precision motors, which provided motors for the helicopter, and SolAero Technologies, provider of solar panels, offered statements of support for the NASA team.

“It is a fantastic feeling to know that our precision drivers worked as planned and that we were able to make our contribution to this historic event,” said Eugen Elmiger, CEO of the maxon Group. “I am proud of our employees and look forward to the next milestones on Mars.”

Maxon said the helicopter is equipped with six brushed DC motors, which have been specifically modified for this challenge. 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 kg and is solar-powered. The lightweight design is a prerequisite, due to the light atmosphere on Mars, which is comparable to conditions at an altitude of 30 kilometers on Earth. “The biggest challenge in developing the motors was the extreme weight requirement,” said Aiko Stenzel, design engineer at maxon. “Every tenth of a gram had to be saved to make the helicopter fly. What’s great is that despite the weight savings, we found a drive solution that has enough power to adjust the rotor blades. And this in the face of high vibrations and temperature fluctuations.”

The SolAero solar panel was manufactured in its production facility in Albuquerque, N.M., and is populated with SolAero’s 33.0% efficient Inverted Metamorphic Multi-junction class of solar cells. The cells generate in excess of 10% more power than other space solar cells, SolAero said. The IMM is also more than 40% lighter than a typical space-grade solar cell. This combination of higher efficiency and lower mass was a critical factor that was deemed mission-enabling for Ingenuity’s successful flight, the company said.

“SolAero is extremely proud to be a part of this history-making flight and supporting it with the highest performance solar panels available,” said Brad Clevenger, CEO of SolAero Technologies. “SolAero’s industry-leading technology and track record of performance continues to make it the supplier of choice for the most demanding satellite applications.

Maxon said the standard variants of the DCX motors are available for everyone, and can be configured online according to individual customer specifications at this website. The company has also set up a special Mars-related website for those interested in other maxon contributions to the Mars helicopter and Mars Perseverance robotic rover.