May 20, 2018

NASA breaks record with new photo of Earth

18 May 2018, 04:16 | Kevin Scott

Image NASA JPL-Caltech

Image NASA  JPL-Caltech

The tiny satellite belongs to the NASA's Mars Cube One (MarCO) cubesats.

MarCO will send data back to NASA about InSight Lander's condition as it enters the planet's atmosphere and explores Mars. "Both are CubeSats are healthy and functioning properly".

Despite the "pale blue dot" photos' similarity, the two cubesats, known as MarCO-A and MarCO-B, are nowhere near as far afield as Voyager 1 was back in 1990.

The MarCO satellites are created to test the benefits of launching CubeSats in deep space.

"CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone", says Andy Klesh, MarCO's chief engineer and leader of the MarCO mission.

The Voyager 1 spacecraft took a classic portrait of Earth - the famous Pale Blue Dot image - from several billion miles away in 1990.

InSight is a lander that will drop down to Mars and examine its interior by taking seismic readings.

Developers are already designing and building CubeSats for future deep space missions, and results from MarCO will help ensure engineers their concepts will work far away from Earth. They are trailing along after Insight on their very own mission to test their design against the rigors of traveling all the way to the red planet.

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As for MarCO-A and MarCO-B, they represent a premiere in the CubeSat's world.

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.

Earth and the moon appear in the picture - but they look really small. Since they're cubesats, each one fits inside a standard frame measuring 14.4 x 9.5 x 4.6-inches (36.6 x 24.3 x 11.8 centimeters). The satellite pair will grab as much data about InSight as it can and beam it to the Deep Space Network antenna in Madrid, Spain at a blistering 8 kilobits per second.

Over the next few months, MarCO-B and MarCO-A (nicknamed Eva) will use its miniaturized propulsion system to keep themselves on track for Mars. Instead of a conventional liquid fuel, like hydrazine, the CubeSats will change its trajectory with compressed R236FA gas, which is commonly used in fire extinguishers. But none of these tiny craft had ever ventured into deep space until the twin MarCO spacecraft did.

Mars 2020 is slated to launch on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket during that July. Also, to these, it also performs other specific tasks.

If the tech fails, the mission will not be affected and all NASA will potentially lose is the money spent developing the helicopter.

"Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington via an agency-issued release.

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