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DC Electric Recovery Winch for Mars Rover

DC Electric Recovery Winch for Mars Rover

Application: DC electric recovery winch for Mars Rover
Customer: MDA / NASA
Location: Richmond, British Columbia
Line Pull: 130 pounds
Line Speed: 5 feet per minute
Capacity: 45 feet X 4 mm synthetic rope on single layer
Power Source: 24 VDC
Special Features: Custom hoist with AutoAdvance Line Spooler, integral load cell, 24 VDC motor and spring-applied, electrically-released brake.

Why APPI: Although some areas on our planet remain largely unexplored, NASA is moving on to bigger and better discoveries in our solar system. By utilizing robots and rovers, they gather data to understand Earth’s celestial neighbors better. The highest on the list of priorities is the long-held hope for a better understanding of Mars, as it appears to be potentially inhabitable and is of terrestrial nature, not dissimilar from the Earth.

MDA of Richmond, British Columbia was asked to examine the possibility of an alternative rover configuration as heavier and larger rovers are limited in the terrain they can traverse and are in danger of becoming entrapped in the sandy soil of Mars.  This is how the Mars Spirit rover became immobilized.

With that goal, MDA designed a prototype package for NASA, including the micro Kapvik rover tethered to a larger rover with a DC electric recovery winch.

The specifications on this particular project were very exact. It can’t be fixed at 50 million miles from Earth if something goes wrong. To simulate the performance of the micro-rover in Mars-like conditions (rocks, sand, and freezing temps), MDA decided to test the concept on one of Earth’s deserts.

Allied Power Products Inc. (APPI) in Beaverton, OR, has a track record of creating job-specific winch and hoist solutions. Hence, MDA’s Jakub Brelski turned to them for their assistance with their DC electric hoist requirement. Due to the project’s technical specifications, experience and expertise were the primary criteria by which the selection was made. In addition, this job would be an exacting custom build, so a good supplier was of tremendous value to MDA.

This project’s unique aspect was APPI’s AutoAdvance Line Spooler (AALS) system that would solve bird nesting issues and guarantee perfect spooling each time. The focus of the design is a retainer around the primary spooler sheave and a unique drum design that prevents the rope from entangling and foiling a multi-million dollar mission. This AALS technology also allowed the integration of other special features, such as a highly accurate load cell to monitor line tension. Also present was an electric encoder that converted revolutions into pulses to calculate line speed and payout distance.

The gearbox utilized synthetic oil specifically designed to perform in low temperatures. Also of note was the size of the recovery winch at only 14 kg, with a drum that was less than 6″ wide. These small dimensions are critical as space, and weight constraints demand compact size on interplanetary missions where fuel capacity and use are at a premium.

Mr. Brelski has indicated that the winch test went well and appeared to be a promising approach for attaching the smaller vehicle to the larger parent rover. Although still in the planning phases, if NASA selects MDA to deliver the micro-rover package for its next mission to Mars, it will be reassured in knowing that APPI had a hand in providing this reliable solution.

Please contact us if you would like more information about this particular DC electric recovery winch system or any of our other products and services.


Allied Power Products, Inc. has specialized in providing winches, hoists, capstans, and cranes to meet our customers’ specific application requirements for more than 30 years.

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