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18 May 2018, 04:14 | Dale Webster
Image NASA JPL-Caltech
Artist's concept of the MarCO CubeSats.
Many think that it could be capable of supporting life which is why NASA launched its special mission known as InSight Mars on May 5, to search the Red Planet, together with the rovers, as well as check the soil and inner chemistry of the planet.
Almost 30 years after Voyager 1 sent back to Earth a photo of humanity's home planet, taken from several billion miles away, the two CubeSats, nicknamed by NASA engineers Wall-E and Eva, did the same, but from a distance of only 621,371 miles (1 million kilometers).
For InSight, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will handle day-to-day data relay duties. JPL built the CubeSats and leads the MarCO mission. Both CubeSats radioed their status to controllers on Earth a few hours after separating from the Atlas 5 rocket.
Controllers uplinked commands from the ground for each spacecraft, named MarCO-A and MarCO-B, to deploy two antennas.
CubeSats are spacecrafts made from small components that are typically used for research purposes and tend to stay in low-Earth orbit.
MarCO-A and MarCO-B also deployed a UHF radio antenna, which will receive telemetry from the InSight spacecraft as it descends through the Martian atmosphere November 26. Its primary role is to test the technologies, study, and the capture of the Earth's image.
"Consider it our tribute to Voyager", stated the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory chief, Andy Klesh, who make reference to the similar Earth-Moon duo images sent back to Earth by the Voyager 1 probe, back in 1990.
'CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone, ' Dr Klesh added. Namely, they are the first of their kind to travel in deep space. The MarCOs will be the first CubeSats to fly to another planet.
Packing all the capability of a traditional spacecraft into a package as small as a CubeSat has been a challenge. However, he said that by taking it, humans would be able to see just how little we are in the grand scale of the universe.
The success of InSight's landing on Mars will not depend on the MarCO CubeSats.
MarCO will send data back to NASA about InSight Lander's condition as it enters the planet's atmosphere and explores Mars. The time delay is required because MRO is not capable of simultaneously receiving information in one band and transmitting data in another.
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. Voyager 1 is now 13 billion miles away from Earth, travelling northward through space.
The photo released by NASA on Tuesday shows both the Earth and the Moon in one rather blurry shot.
One of the crucial technologies embedded inside each MarCO spacecraft is a miniaturized "Iris" radio, about the size of a softball, that crams advanced receive and transmission functions into a package that can fit into a CubeSat. Later this month, the pair of tiny satellites will attempt the first trajectory correction maneuvers ever done by a CubeSat.
But they do not carry the typical propellants used by satellites. In the 2008 film "Wall-E", the titular robot uses a fire extinguisher to zoom around in space while his friend Eva looks on. But none of these tiny craft had ever ventured into deep space until the twin MarCO spacecraft did. But the MarCOs could be a pathfinder so that future missions can "bring their own relay" to Mars.
The CubeSats have been initially engineered for testing and research but are now a crucial element of all important commercial missions, according to a press release issued by NASA.
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