InSight Mission Shows That CubeSats Can Relay Messages From Deep Space

  • November 26, 2018
    Twin MarCO spacecraft
    Photo: NASA

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    Two CubeSats, MarCO A and MarCO B, have gone where no CubeSats have gone before: beyond low Earth orbit. MarCO A and B—short for Mars Cube One—traveled to the Red Planet in a mission to prove that the tiny satellites can be useful in deep space.

    The MarCO satellites made the journey alongside NASA’s InSight lander. According to NASA, the lander successfully touched down on Mars just before 3 p.m. ET on Monday, 26 November. InSight will break new ground as it probes deeper into Mars’s surface than previous landers, in order to explore the composition of the planet’s interior.

    Not to be outdone, however, MarCO did more than set a new distance record for CubeSats. The two satellites have potentially changed how NASA puts rovers and landers on other worlds.

    “What MarCO looks like will probably pave the way for future deep space CubeSats,” says Nacer Chahat, an antenna engineer for MarCO at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), who wrote for IEEE Spectrum about the challenges that came with designing MarCO’s antennas. MarCO’s success in passing on information from InSight while the lander touched down opens the door for a “bring your own communication relay” approach to future missions.

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