NASAs first deep space mini spacecraft go silent

09 February, 2019, 10:55 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • NASA satellite MarCO-B took this image of Mars during its flyby of the Red Planet on Nov. 26 2018

NASA's Mars InSight mission is moving along nicely, with the robotic lander preparing for many months of research that will tell scientists more about the interior of the planet than ever. The MarCOs will be the first CubeSats - a kind of modular, mini-satellite - flown into deep space. And now, they've fallen silent.

The duo participated during the entry and touchdown of InSight on the surface of the Red Planet by relaying information to Earth.

Wall-E and Eve were launched previous year in May. The U.S. space agency does not know why, but they have some theories.

But the experiment has come to an end. At this time, the mission team considers it unlikely they'll be heard from again.

A pair of small satellites that joined the InSight mission on its way to Mars haven't been heard from in over a month-but the experimental mission is still an important success for NASA.

WALL-E was last heard from on December 29th; EVE, on January 4th. Trajectory data suggests that Wall-E is more than 1 million miles past Mars with EVE being almost 2 million miles past Mars.

The loss of communication isn't entirely a surprise.

WALL-E also sent back the first incredible images of Mars while EVE also collected radio data.

"The brightness sensors that allow the CubeSats to stay pointed at the Sun and recharge their batteries could be another factor", NASA JPL added in the statement.

Repeated attempts to communicate with the satellites have failed.

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But MarCO was still a successful experiment, they said.

Chief engineer Andy Klesh noted the mission was about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology.

"We've put a stake in the ground", Klesh said in the JPL statement. But it's rare for them to go adventuring so far from home. The MarCO and InSight projects are managed for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

In addition to assisting with communication about the landing, MarCO-B took an image of Mars from 4,700 miles away during its flyby.

An artist's impression of WALL-E and EVE in Mars. At such distances from Earth the probes have to align their antennas very precisely to communicate with operations control and wobbling might prevent them from doing so.

Each weighing only 13.5kg and measuring about the size of a briefcase, the small spacecraft are much cheaper to manufacture and send to space than fully fledged probes. "But they're low-priced ride-alongs that can allow us to explore in new ways". "We are proud of their accomplishment".

NASA, the European Space Agency and China all aim to launch Mars rovers in mid-2020. NASA is set to launch a variety of new CubeSats in coming years.

"There's big potential in these small packages", Baker said. "CubeSats - part of a larger group of spacecraft called SmallSats - are a new platform for space exploration that is affordable to more than just government agencies".

So how is InSight doing? It's been making adjustments to that for the past few weeks. It was designed with aerodynamics in mind so the wind wouldn't flip it off the instrument and instead would help press it down. Since wild temperature swings on Mars can mean fluctuations of about 170 degrees Farenheit over the course of a Martian day (sol), contractions and expansions of the seismometer were a problem needing to be addressed. After a ideal live-streamed Martian surface landing shortly thereafter, Earthlings were treated to a (slightly dusty) photo taken by one of InSight's on-board cameras, providing visual confirmation of the arrival.

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