Interplanetary Cubesats First to Go Silent Beyond Mars



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Interplanetary Cubesats First to Go Silent Beyond Mars

MarCO-B captured this image of Mars shortly after NASA's InSight probe landed successfully on the Red Planet.

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The first small spacecraft to leave Earth's orbit was silent for more than a month, NASA said today (Feb. 5) in an announcement about the pair of Mars Cube One (MARCO) probes.

The two MarCO spacecraft (called, specifically, MarCO-A and MarCO-B) were launched in May with NASA's InSight landing module as a demonstration project. The mission was intended to show that small satellites that have proliferated in recent years could survive and conduct a useful science beyond the immediate vicinity of the Earth, and the Brands have achieved every one of their goals, NASA said.

"This mission has always been about pushing the limits of the miniaturized technology and seeing how far it could take us," said Andy Klesh, the mission's chief engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a statement. "We put a stake on the floor. Future CubeSats can go even further."

The InSight lander could complete his own mission without his two little companions. But they were designed to convey information about the dangerous landing for NASA engineers faster than other Mars communication systems could do.

And just minutes from the landing scheduled for November 26, Marco's satellites sent the news that InSight landed safely. One of the cubesats, MarCO-B, also captured incredible images of Mars as the tiny pair flew across the planet.

The $ 18.5 million mission accomplished all of its goals on the day of landing, even as the spacecraft passed through Mars. They also captured hearts in their daring adventure, with Marco-A nicknamed EVE and their partner called WALL-E, in honor of the characters in the animated film "WALL-E."

NASA estimates that Marco-A, which called home Jan. 4, is now almost 2 million miles (3.2 million km) farther from Mars. MarCO-B, which has been silent since December 29, has covered about half of the planet's distance.

Many threats could have knocked out the two interplanetary spacecrafts for good, but if they are still out there, NASA will drip again into the Cuban again in the summer when their orbits take the Marcos closer to Earth.

And in the meantime, NASA has many plans to design small additional spacecraft, based on the legacy of the first interplanetary cubes.

E-mail Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow Us @Spacedotcom and Facebook. Original article in Space.com.

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