Engineers Modify Six Brushed DC Motors for a Mission to Mars

July 25, 2022
Florbela Costa describes the design specs behind the six modified brushed DC motors that power NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.

READ MORE: Q&A: How Florbela Costa Helps Drive Unmanned Space Flight

What makes flying an $80 million helicopter on Mars a marvel of engineering?

If you asked Florbela Costa, she’d say several things spring to mind. Firstly, the thin air on Mars makes it especially difficult for a drone to achieve lift. And, secondly, helicopters like NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter test new capabilities and support space missions by expanding scouting potential and detecting possible risks.

As a project manager within maxon’s SpaceLab—the division that specializes in developing higher risk, new technologies for space missions—Costa would likely add that refining each and every component to succeed on a space mission is a feat in itself.


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Costa can speak to the multiple adaptations that were needed to make the drone’s six DCX micromotors fit for the Martian skies. “For space applications, we need to ensure that nothing fails,” said Costa. “We will not have any maintenance or substitutions of components in space—at least not for now.”

Being able to think outside the box and trying to solve those problems is just one of the traits required to be part of an award-winning aerospace technical team. “We all think differently on our team, yet we are alike in that we are all very proactive,” Costa said.

In this screencast with Machine Design, Costa addresses questions about lightweighting, materials selection and quality requirements, as well as the skills she brings to the team.

Editor’s Note: Machine Design's Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) hub compiles our coverage of gender representation issues affecting the engineering field, in addition to contributions from equity seeking groups and subject matter experts within various subdisciplines.

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