From Obwalden straight to Mars

Maxon Motor from Sachseln equips NASA with electric motors. A success story from central Switzerland.

Andrej Abplanalp

Andrej Abplanalp

Historian and communications chief of the Swiss National Museum.

We generally associate high-tech with vibrant metropolitan cities. Would anyone really expect to find a manufacturer of state-of-the-art space technology on the idyllic shores of Lake Sarnen? Probably not, but they would be wrong. The village of Sachseln is the home of Maxon Motors, which rose to worldwide fame in 2004, when it supplied 39 electric motors for the Mars Exploration Rover “Opportunity”. Maxon’s motors are not only technically advanced, but durable as well. Originally, NASA’s Mars expedition was supposed to spend only 90 days on the surface of the red planet. But “Opportunity” celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2014. Nobody would have thought that the motors could withstand the extreme climatic conditions of Mars for more than three months!

A new mission to Mars will begin in 2018. NASA is sending a robotic lander with the name InSight to the red planet. After landing, it will be fixed in place and should help us to learn more about the planet’s make-up and structure. Maxon is contributing key components to this undertaking as well. The US space agency is once again drawing on expertise from Sachseln for its Mars rover mission scheduled for 2020. The European Space Agency (ESA) also wants to go there in 2020. Not surprisingly, its rover will be powered by motors from the canton of Obwalden, one of which is in the Swiss National Museum's collection. It would seem that Maxon and Mars are inextricably linked.

Engrossing documentary about the Mars mission with Opportunity. Source: NASA

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