RIP Mars Cube One. The first small spacecraft to ever leave Earth's orbit have been silent for more than a month, NASA announced last week about the pair of probes.
The two MarCO spacecraft (called, specifically, MarCO-A and MarCO-B) launched in May with NASA's InSight lander as a demonstration project. The mission was meant to show that the small satellites that have proliferated over recent years could survive and conduct useful science beyond Earth's immediate neighborhood, and the MarCOs achieved every one of their goals. "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 NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. "We've put a stake in the ground. Future CubeSats might go even farther."
The InSight lander could complete its own mission without its two small companions.
However, they were designed to relay information about the perilous landing to NASA's engineers faster than other communications systems at Mars could do. And within just minutes of the scheduled touchdown on November 26th, the MarCO satellites sent home word that InSight had safely landed. The $18.5 million USD mission met all its goals on landing day, even as the spacecraft themselves barreled past Mars. They also captured hearts on their daring adventure, with MarCO-A nicknamed EVE and its partner called WALL-E, in honor of characters in the Disney heart warmer.
NASA estimates that MarCO-A, which last phoned home on January 4th, is now nearly 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) beyond Mars. MarCO-B, which has been silent since December 29th, has traveled about half that distance past the planet.
Plenty of threats could have felled the two interplanetary spacecraft for good, but just in case they're still out there, NASA will ping the cubesats again in the summer, when their orbits carry the MarCOs closer to Earth.
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Source: This story was originally published on Space.com. I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest on the subject. Bartels, Meghan. "The World's 1st Interplanetary Cubesats Go Silent Beyond Mars." Space.com. 6 Feb, 2019. Web article. Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "The World's First Interplanetary Cubesats Go Silent." SkyFeed. 11 Feb, 2019. Web article.