Launched on May 22 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the voyage of the unmanned Space-X Dragon made history as the first privately built spacecraft to launch into orbit and then return. Motion components were a critical part of Dragon’s successful voyage. On the trip to the International Space Station (ISS), brushless motors from maxon motors, Fall River, Mass., were used to rotate Dragon’s solar arrays to keep them aligned with the sun as the capsule orbited the earth, open the instrument bay door that contains navigation equipment, and lock the fixture in place that allows Dragon to be grappled by the space station’s robotic arm.

On May 25, astronaut Donald Pettit used the 17.6-m robotic arm of the ISS to grapple Dragon and guide it to the space station’s docking point. The 4.4-m-tall spacecraft delivered 1,146 lb of scientific equipment and food to the ISS. On May 31, the six-ton capsule detached from the ISS and safely splashed down off the California coast, returning 1,455 lb of material to Earth. Now that NASA has ended its space shuttle program, Dragon is the only means of transporting such large quantities of material.

The maxon team has been working on the SpaceX motor project for the past year and will continue to do so. NASA has contracted with SpaceX for another 12 flights to the ISS, and in a few years, the spacecraft has plans to carry seven astronauts there. For more information, visit maxonmotorusa.com.