Small Satellites That Accompanied InSight Lander To Mars Go Silent

Mindy Sparks
February 9, 2019

"This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us", Andy Klesh, the mission's chief engineer at JPL, said.

While the two Mars Cube One satellites have launched towards Mars as a test project for advanced communication systems in deep space, the fact that they went "dark" is puzzling the United States space agency's scientists.

It has been over a month since engineers have heard from MarCO, which followed Nasa's InSight to the Red Planet. "Future CubeSats might go even farther", Klesh added.

Attitude-control issues could be causing them to wobble and lose the ability to send and receive commands, NASA said in a statement.

NASA, meanwhile, is still trying to contact the Mars lander Opportunity, silenced last June by a global dust storm that prevented sunlight from reaching its solar panels.

In a new post by NASA, scientists reveal that it's now been over a month since either of the MarCO CubeSats made contact with Earth, and nobody knows if we'll ever hear from them again.

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. The MarCO CubeSats that were launched a year ago have been unable to communicate with NASA. Wall-E fell silent on December 29, while Eve survived a little longer but stopped talking after January 4.

InSight would use the reliable Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been at Mars since 2006, to relay data back home, whether or not the CubeSats made it - but WALL-E successfully sent back InSight data from each stage of the descent, as well as the lander's first image, while EVE was able to perform some radio measurements.

Nasa has several theories about why it has lost contact with the pair - none of which involve the interference of aliens. "The brightness sensors that allow the CubeSats to stay pointed at the Sun and recharge their batteries could be another factor", NASA said. The satellites are still receding from the Sun, and their greater distance requires more precision in aiming their antennas toward Earth.

The MarCOs will not start moving toward the Sun again until this summer. It's unknown if the batteries or any other components will last that long, however.

The systems used for the MarCOs are produced by commercial companies and are likely compatible with various other types of CubeSats.

Even if they're never revived, the team considers MarCO a spectacular success.

With EVE and WALL-E's success, NASA is set to continue launching a variety of new CubeSats in the coming years.

"There's big potential in these small packages", said John Baker, the MarCO program manager at JPL, in the statement.

More small spacecraft are on the way.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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