Briefcase-size satellites fall silent after Mars flyby

Rodiano Bonacci
Febbraio 8, 2019

NASA engineers are now resigned losing the probes forever. They hoped that the satellites would make it to Mars and monitor InSight around landing time, serving as backup relays to transmit radio data back to Earth in near-real time.

NASA launched a pair of spacecraft that were very small, about the size of a briefcase, known collectively as MarCO previous year. CubeSats are scalable, however-WALL-E and EVE each contained 6 cube units.

NASA will use the compact spacecraft to explore the furthest of infinite space.

CubeSat missions have proven popular in Earth orbit, as their low cost and tiny launch weight means many universities can afford to perform their own orbital science.

Andy Klesh, the NASA MarCO chief engineer said: "This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturised technology and seeing just how far it could take us".

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

The pair played a key role in the InSight lander's arrival to Mars in November; as InSight descended to the surface, the briefcase-size satellites flew past the red planet, providing real-time updates to ground controllers in a first-of-its-kind experiment.

The two CubeSats, which are the first class of this spacecraft to enter deep space, were orbiting Mars as Insight landed. After a successful dome deployment on Saturday, another milestone for the craft has been reached, bringing InSight's team one step closer to understanding the secrets of the planet's early formative years by studying its core.

Wall-E and Eve were launched previous year in May.

But it appears the NASA spacecraft has finally been pushed beyond their limits. One, nicknamed WALL-E, last contacted Earth Dec. 29, while the other, Eve, has been silent since January 4.

NASA said that based on trajectory calculations, WALL-E is more than 1 million miles past Mars, while EVE is nearly 2 million miles past the Red Planet.

It's known that WALL-E has a leaky thruster, which could be causing communication problems.

The MarCOs are in orbit around the Sun and will only get farther away as February wears on.

Both spaceships will start moving towards the sun this summer and it's hoped they will spring back to life. NASA is doubtful that they will check in again, but their success is seen as a good sign for the future of CubeSats on NASA missions. However, it's not guaranteed that their equipment will survive such a long journey. Over 1,000 CubeSats have been launched.

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

"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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