NASA’s Mars helicopter provided the first controlled aircraft flight on a planet other than Earth. The goal of the helicopter was to launch a path for future airborne exploratory missions to other planets. The pioneer project has been developed by a team of engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), AeroVironment, and maxon. Design News covered the development of the helicopter.
Innovation Throughout the Helicopter
The helicopter is manufactured by AeroVironment, an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) specialist, under contract from JPL. maxon’s “SpaceLab” engineers have been working closely with their counterparts at AeroVironment. Six precision micro motors (DCX10 S) with a diameter of 10 millimeters are installed to move the swashplates. Swashplates are found on all helicopters and are made to adjust the angle of the rotor blades and thereby control the helicopter’s flight path.
Here’s a video of the helicopter’s first flight:
It took intense development work for NASA’s Mars missions. For the small helicopter to fly, it takes an incredible engineering effort. The thin air on Mars is comparable to the conditions on Earth at an altitude of 30 kilometers. This means that the helicopter must be extremely light (1.8 kilograms) and can only carry small batteries that must be highly energy-efficient, a requirement that also applies to maxon’s DC motors.
For maxon, the Mars expedition is a special highlight in its space sector experience. Both the Perseverance rover as well as the Ingenuity helicopter are equipped with maxon motors. “It wasn’t easy to meet the incredibly strict requirements of the mission. These successful flights exceeded all our expectations,” said maxon CEO Eugen Elmiger.
The Collier Award’s Long History
The Robert J. Collier Trophy – more than 100 years old – is awarded by the National Aeronautic Association each year marking major achievements in aviation that have included one of the Wright brothers in the 1910s and the Apollo missions to the moon in the late 1960s.
Robert J. Collier, the publisher of Collier's Weekly magazine, was an air sports pioneer and president of the Aero Club of America. In 1910, he commissioned Baltimore sculptor Ernest Wise Keyser to make the 525-pound Aero Club of America Trophy. First awarded in 1911 to Glenn H. Curtiss for his successful development of the hydro-airplane. Collier owned a Wright Model B biplane which he purchased in 1911.