NASA CubeSats steer toward Mars

NASA CubeSats steer toward Mars

An artist’s idea of considered one of NASA’s MarCO CubeSats. The twin MarCOs are the primary CubeSats to finish a trajectory correction maneuver, firing their thrusters to information themselves toward Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has achieved a primary for the category of tiny spacecraft referred to as CubeSats, that are opening new entry to area.


Over the previous week, two CubeSats referred to as MarCO-A and MarCO-B have been firing their propulsion programs to information themselves toward Mars. This course of, referred to as a , permits a spacecraft to refine its path to Mars following launch. Both CubeSats efficiently accomplished this maneuver; NASA’s InSight spacecraft simply accomplished the identical course of on May 22.

The pair of CubeSats that make up the Mars Cube One (MarCO) mission each launched on May 5, together with the InSight lander, which is headed toward a Nov. 26 landing on the Red Planet. They have been designed to path InSight on the way in which to Mars, aiming to relay again knowledge about InSight because it enters the planet’s ambiance and makes an attempt to land. The MarCOs have been by no means meant to gather any science knowledge; as a substitute, they’re a check of miniaturized communication and navigation expertise that may blaze a path for future CubeSats despatched to different planets.

Both MarCO-A and B efficiently accomplished a set of communications assessments prior to now couple of weeks, mentioned John Baker, program supervisor for planetary SmallSats at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. JPL constructed each MarCO CubeSats and leads the mission.

“Our broadest goal was to demonstrate how low-cost CubeSat technology can be used in deep space for the first time,” Baker mentioned. “With both MarCOs on their way to Mars, we’ve already traveled farther than any CubeSat before them.”

While MarCO-A corrected its course to Mars comparatively easily, MarCO-B confronted some sudden challenges. Its maneuver was smaller attributable to a leaky thruster valve that engineers have been monitoring for the previous a number of weeks. The leak creates small trajectory modifications by itself. Engineers have factored in these nudges in order that MarCO-B can nonetheless carry out a trajectory correction maneuver. It will take a number of extra weeks of monitoring to refine these nudges in order that MarCO-B can comply with InSight on its cruise by way of area.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that MarCO-B can follow MarCO-A,” mentioned Joel Krajewski of JPL, MarCO’s mission supervisor. “But we wanted to take more time to understand the underlying issues before attempting the next course-correction maneuver.”

Once the MarCO workforce has analyzed knowledge, they’re going to know the scale of follow-on maneuvers. Several extra course corrections might be wanted to achieve the Red Planet.

Should the CubeSats make all of it the way in which to Mars, they may try to relay knowledge to Earth about InSight’s touchdown. InSight will not depend on both CubeSat for that knowledge relay, nonetheless; that job will fall to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.


Explore additional:
A pale blue dot, as seen by a CubeSat

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