Opportunity Waits for Light

A 15-year-old Mars rover called Opportunity fought another sandstorm.

On July 7, 2003, the Nasa twin robot embarked on its journey to Mars from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Today, it is still sending life signs back to Earth, despite a heavy sandstorm.

Last month, Nasa engineers tried to contact Opportunity several times. However, they haven’t heard back from the rover. The team assumed that the charge in Opportunity’s batteries had fallen to below 24v, causing the rover to go into the low-power default mode. In this mode, all subsystems except a mission clock are turned off. The mission clock of the rover is programmed to wake up the computer so that it can check the power.

If the rover’s computer finds that the batteries are not sufficiently charged, it goes back into standby mode. Due to the high amount of dust in Perseverance Valley, the mission engineers believed that it would be unlikely for the rover to collect enough sunlight to recharge for a few days.

maxon motor CEO Eugen Elmiger said: “Opportunity has braved many minor and major sandstorms over the years and has always managed to recover its energy. We have no doubt that our motors will also run without trouble afterwards.”

Opportunity’s six wheels are driven by maxon DC motors. The Obwalden-based drive specialist supplied 35 units with diameters of 20mm and 25mm for the rover. The maxon motors in the wheels, for example, did more than 78 million revolutions each, under extreme environmental conditions and temperature fluctuations from -120°C to +25°C.

The experiences from this successful project are being used to develop new motors that will soon fly to Mars on the upcoming Mars missions by Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA) to join the next scientific race.

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