Tuesday, 23 April, 2019

NASA satellite mysteriously goes silent after flying past Mars

MarCO-B one of the experimental Mars Cube One CubeSats took these images as it approached Mars MarCO-B one of the experimental Mars Cube One CubeSats took these images as it approached Mars
Cary Marshall | 09 February, 2019, 10:54

MarCO launched to Mars behind the InSight mission and were meant to act as relays for data during each stage of the InSight landing process in near-real time, that mission was a success. "MarCO was there to relay information back from InSight in real time, and we did that extraordinarily well", said Andy Klesh, MarCO chief engineer, at a press conference at JPL immediately after the successful InSight landing November 26.

NASA, meanwhile, is still trying to contact the Mars lander Opportunity, silenced last June by a global dust storm that prevented sunlight from reaching its solar panels. The MarCO space probes (as the Mars Cube One satellites are known - MarCO-A and MarCO-B) gone silent as they past Mars, the U.S. space agency reported a couple of days ago.

"This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us", said Andy Klesh, the mission's chief engineer at JPL.

The last communication from Wall-E was received on December 29 with EVE's last communication received on January 4. JPL said they still have a number of the critical spare parts that can be used to build more CubeSats. "They were an excellent test of how CubeSats can serve as "tag-alongs" on future missions, giving engineers up-to-the-minute feedback during a landing".

WALL-E sent back stunning images of Mars as well, while EVE performed some simple radio science - all these with experimental technology at the paltry sum of $18.5 million; a fraction of what most space missions do.

"We've put a stake in the ground", Klesh said in the JPL statement.

The MarCOs will not start moving toward the Sun again until this summer.

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An artist's impression of WALL-E and EVE in Mars. The mission could foretell a future of spacecraft bringing more CubeSats with them in the future.

The pair of spacecraft were named EVE and Wall-E after characters from the popular Pixar film. The agency knows of a problem Wall-E has with a leaky thruster, and there's also doubt the two are capable of correctly pointing their antennas towards Earth as they go deeper into space. The team will reattempt to contact the CubeSats at that time, though whether their batteries and other parts will last that long cannot be predicted.

Radio antennas: Like Earth, Mars wobbles a little as it rotates around its axis.

"There's big potential in these small packages", said John Baker, the MarCO program manager, on Tuesday.

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.

This paves the way for new CubeSats that NASA will launch. "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".

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