NASA shares CubeSat version of 'pale blue dot' image

17 May, 2018, 18:53 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • A NASA engineer tests a Mars Cube One satellite before launch.       NASA  JPL-Caltech

He is, of course, referring to the famous pale blue dot photo taken by the Voyager spacecraft in 1990 at the request of scientist Carl Sagan. The image shows Earth as a faint blue tiny dot and a little further from it the even tinier dot that represents its natural satellite, the Moon.

Following in the footsteps of the Voyager 1 spacecraft, the twin satellites, dubbed Mars Cube One or MarCO, took their own version of a "pale blue dot" image from space, snapping a photo of both the Earth and the moon in one single shot, NASA announced yesterday. One of then, called MarCO-B - and affectionately known as "Wall-E" to the MarCO team - used a fisheye camera to snap its first photo.

By receiving MarCO-B's first snapshot of Earth, the space agency now has confirmation that the satellites have successfully deployed their high-gain antennas as well. Controllers on Earth will command the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight.

The Mars Helicopter began as a technology development program of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in August of 2013.

Andy Klesh says, "Cubesats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone".

NASA shares CubeSat version of 'pale blue dot' image

MarCO's softball-size radio provides both UHF (receive only) and X-band (receive and transmit) functions capable of immediately relaying information received over UHF. "We're looking forward to seeing them travel even farther", he added.

Most never go beyond Earth orbit; they generally stay below 800 kilometres above the planet.

They were originally developed to teach university students about satellites, CubeSats are now a major commercial technology, providing data on everything from shipping routes to environmental changes.

The picture was taken by one of two tiny CubeSats that were launched together on May 5 as part of the InSight Lander project and are now heading to Mars. InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will attempt to land on Mars on November 26th. "However, these CubeSat missions are not needed for InSight's mission success". In order to account for the planet's thin atmosphere, its blades will rotate 10 times faster than the blades of a standard helicopter: roughly 3,000 rotations per minute.

MarCO will send data back to NASA about InSight Lander's condition as it enters the planet's atmosphere and explores Mars. They are, instead, intended as a kind of proof-of-concept for future missions to Mars. Plus, they might also demonstrate the working of antennas, radios, and propulsion systems that could enable future CubeSats to collect scientific data on distant worlds. This may only be the beginning of cubesat use in deep space missions, though.

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