MarCO: Tiny cube satellites headed to Mars

earthsky.org | 9/24/2018 | EarthSky Voices
penaert (Posted by) Level 3
Click For Photo: http://en.es-static.us/upl/2018/09/marco-illustration-e1537557613950-300x247.jpg

An artist’s rendering of the twin Mars Cube One (MarCO) spacecraft flying over Mars with Earth in the distance. Image via NASA/JPL.

Twenty years ago, CubeSats – a class of boxy satellites small enough to fit in a backpack – were used by universities as a teaching aid. Simpler, smaller and cheaper than traditional satellites, they’ve made space more accessible to private companies and science agencies.

Summer - NASA - Next-generation - CubeSats - Space

This summer, NASA has been flying the first two next-generation CubeSats to deep space. They’re currently on their way to Mars, trailing thousands of miles behind the InSight spacecraft. InSight and its CubeSat tag-alongs are already more than halfway to the Red Planet.

The mini-mission, called Mars Cube One (MarCO), has already proved this class of spacecraft can survive the deep-space environment. It will next test the use of miniaturized communication technology to relay data when InSight attempts to land in November. Relaying landing data is one of the jobs of NASA’s orbiters, which will record InSight’s descent; engineers learn more from every landing attempt. MarCO will test whether this technology can ably perform the relay job for future missions.

Engineer - Joel - Steinkraus - Sunlight - Arrays

Engineer Joel Steinkraus uses sunlight to test the solar arrays on one of the Mars Cube One (MarCO) spacecraft. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

To complete their mission, the MarCOs have miniature high-gain antennas and radios that can communicate with Earth from roughly 93 million miles (150 million km) away. Their propulsion systems are capable of steering towards Mars; each MarCO completed its second steering maneuver in August. They even have color cameras, one of which snapped the first image from a CubeSat of the Earth and the moon – proof of just how far this technology has literally come.

MarCO - Spacecraft - Technology - Package - Something

MarCO is still experimental. It’s meant to demonstrate that spacecraft technology can be shrunk into a tiny package and still do something...
(Excerpt) Read more at: earthsky.org
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