May 24, 2018

NASA's First Mini-Satellites to travel Deep Space

18 May 2018, 04:14 | Lucia Cruz

NASA satellite snaps adorable Earth portrait on way to Mars

Tiny NASA satellite bound for Mars snaps photo of Earth from thousands of miles away

Voyager 1 is now 13 billion miles away from Earth, travelling northward through space.

NASA shared the image on Tuesday.

Earth appears as a tiny blue blob on the right of the image, while our orbiting moon is an nearly indistinguishable speck to the left in the image taken from 621,371 miles (1 million kilometers) away.

"Consider it our homage to Voyager", Andy Klesh, Mars Cube One's chief engineer said in a statement.

Giant radio telescopes on Earth will also listen for signals radioed directly from InSight in near real-time - accounting for a time delay due to the vast distance to Mars - but the ground-based antennas are expected to only verify the lander's "aliveness" during descent and touchdown. "Both our Cubesats are healthy and functioning properly. We're looking forward to seeing them travel even farther", he added.

MarCO-A and MarCO-B, which were built at JPL, are conducting a demonstration mission - basically, their handlers aim to show that cubesats can indeed help explore distant destinations.

If all goes according to plan, MarCO-A and -B will fly by Mars on November 26, the same day that InSight arrives at the Red Planet for its crucial entry, descent and landing (EDL) sequence.

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This annotated version shows the planet and parts of the CubeSat.

The success of InSight's landing on Mars will not depend on the MarCO CubeSats. Earth will be oriented so that the information relayed via MarCO will go to the Madrid, Spain, station of the Deep Space Network, from which it will be routed to the InSight mission operations team.

Later this month, NASA said, the MarCOs will attempt the first trajectory correction maneuvers ever performed by CubeSats. The satellite pair will grab as much data about InSight as it can and beam it to the Deep Space Network antenna in Madrid, Spain at a blistering 8 kilobits per second.

But they do not carry the typical propellants used by satellites.

The Voyager crafts have set numerous records since they were launched in 1977, including Voyager 1 becoming the only spacecraft to have entered interstellar space. After the rocket took off and reached into the outer space, the twin satellites got detached from the rocket in the upper stage of it.

"Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington via an agency-issued release. They are, instead, intended as a kind of proof-of-concept for future missions to Mars. They're also testing a few specific technologies, including a propulsion system that uses the same cold, compressed gas commonly found in fire extinguishers.

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