NASA's MarCO mission was built to see if two
an experimental spacecraft the size of a briefcase could survive the journey into deep space,
and both CubeSats proved to be more than capable. After sailing behind NASA
InSight for seven months, they managed to relay data to Earth's
the landing gear as it descends to the Martian surface on Monday, November 26th.
Nicknamed "EVE" and "WALL-E" after the
stars of Pixar 2008, MarCO-A and MarCO-B have used experimental radios and
antennas, offering engineers another way to monitor the landing. the
CubeSats provided information to the InSight landing team in just 8 minutes – the
the time it takes for the radio signals to spread from Mars to Earth. It was a lot
faster than waiting for NASA's orbiters on Mars, who were not positioned to be
able to observe all the event and send data to the Earth immediately.
"WALL-E and EVE lived up to our expectations
, said Andy Klesh, chief engineer of MarCO, at Jet Propulsion of NASA
Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which built the CubeSats. "They were
an excellent test of how CubeSats can serve as a "relay" for future missions,
give engineers minute-to-minute feedback during a landing. "
Landing on Mars is exceptionally difficult: before
InSight, only about 40% of attempts by various countries have been successful.
Even if a spacecraft does not survive landing, have a "black box" – or
two, as with MarCO – save the event can help engineers to design
best landing technology.
None of the MarCO CubeSats carries scientific instruments,
but that did not stop the team from testing whether future CubeSats could perform
useful science on Mars. As MarCO-A passed, he led an improvised radio
science, the transmission of signals across the edge of the atmosphere of Mars.
An interference of the Martian atmosphere alters the signal when it is received on
Earth, allowing scientists to determine the amount of atmosphere present and
to some extent, what is it made of?
"CubeSats has incredible potential for carrying cameras
and scientific instruments in the deep space, "said John Baker, the JPL program
small spaceship manager. "They will never replace the most capable
NASA is best known for its development. But these are low cost tours
this can allow us to explore new ways. "
As a bonus, some mainstream cameras onboard MarCO have provided
drive-by images as the CubeSats passed Mars. MarCO-B was
programmed to turn so that he can image the planet in a sequence of shots like
he approached Mars (before the launch, the cameras of MarCO-A turned out to be either
not functional or too vague to use).
After landing, MarCO-B turned around to take a
goodbye shot of the red planet. He also tried to take some pictures of Mars
moons, Phobos and Deimos.
"WALL-E sent great postcards from Mars!" m said
Cody Colley from JPL, Mission Manager at MarCO, who led the work to program each
CubeSat to take pictures. "It's exciting to see the sight of almost
1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) above the surface. "
Once the objectives of the mission have been achieved, the MarCO team
spend the next two weeks collecting additional data on each CubeSat. Of
The interest will be how much fuel is left in each CubeSat and detailed analyzes of
how their relay capacity performed.
It is also certain that the team will be more festive.
"MarCO consists primarily of early career engineers and,
for many, MarCO is their first out-of-university experience on a NASA
mission, "said Joel Krajewski of JPL, project manager of MarCO." We
are proud of their accomplishment. This gave them valuable experience at each
facet of the construction, testing and operation of a spacecraft in a deep space. "
To know more about MarCO,
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California