MarCO CubeSats Worked as Planned During InSight Mars Landing

Photo of Mars taken by MarCO from 4,700 miles away 1 photo
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
For the duration of its trip to Mars and during its seven minutes of terror descent toward the surface, the InSight spacecraft was tracked through space by a pair of CubeSats called MarCO (short for Mars Cube One).
It was the first time in history a spacecraft’s journey was documented this way. The feat was made possible thanks to the creation of this tool several years back.

According to NASA, the main goal of the two briefcase-sized machines was to relay data back to Earth during the descent of InSight into the Martian atmosphere, making humanity witness to such an event for the first time.

Now that the dust has settled over the excitement caused by the successful landing, the American space agency was able to let the world know the CubeSats did their job as expected, opening a whole new world of possibilities for space exploration.

"CubeSats have incredible potential to carry cameras and science instruments out to deep space," said in a statement John Baker, JPL's program manager for small spacecraft.

"They'll never replace the more capable spacecraft NASA is best known for developing. But they're low-cost ride-alongs that can allow us to explore in new ways."

Despite the fact that they are not equipped with scientific instruments, the CubeSats near Mars were used to determine how much atmosphere is present at a specific point during InSight’s approach by using MarCO’s radio signals.

The CubeSat family started life as a tool for NASA to teach engineering students how to build spacecraft. The agency plans to use them much more extensively in the future, as assistance tools for various missions and possible exploration opportunities.

The two CubeSats that are currently orbiting around Mars are nicknamed Wall-E and Eva, because they both use a compressed gas commonly found in fire extinguishers to push themselves through, just like the character from a 2008 Pixar animation.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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