NASA Plans to Fly Helicopter on Mars

Rodiano Bonacci
Mag 17, 2018

Interestingly, the Earth appears as a mere pale blue dot in the image.

NASA set a new distance record for CubeSats on May 8 after Mars Cube One (MarCO) snapped a photo of our planet 621,371 miles away.

The MarCO-B CubeSat, known by the cute nickname "Wall-E", snapped a photo on May 9 as proof it was able to properly unfold its high-gain antenna, which it'll need to communicate from Mars.

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.

Capturing the Earth and the moon was a fortunate coincidence, as the image was only meant to test whether the craft's antennae had deployed correctly.

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

Nasa made a decision to release the image taken by the miniature satellites in homage to one of the space exploration programmes most famous predecessors, the Voyager mission.

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

CubeSat looks back at Earth
NASA satellite snaps adorable Earth portrait on way to Mars

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. Namely, they are the first of their kind to travel in deep space.

The Insight launch earlier this month had a couple stowaways: a pair of tiny CubeSats that are already the farthest such tiny satellites have ever been from Earth by a long shot.

Most never go beyond the orbit of Earth, they generally stay below 497 miles (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.

When NASA launches its next mission on the journey to Mars - a stationary lander - the flight will include two CubeSats.

The InSight lander is expected to reach Mars this November. "However, these CubeSat missions are not needed for InSight's mission success". The helicopter's twin blades will whirl at 3,000 rpm, about 10 times the rate of a helicopter's blades on Earth, to compensate for Mars' thin atmosphere. MarCO will be navigated to Mars independently of the InSight spacecraft, with its own course adjustments on the way.

The helicopter will allow NASA to advance exploration on Mars for the future. While the lander's $813-million mission will carry on for about two years, studying the planet's subsurface structure and its seismic activity, the $18.5 million MarCO mission will end soon after the satellites' arrival on 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.

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