Wall-E and Eve CubeSats Lost in Space as They Move Away from Mars

In May last year, an Atlas V rocket carried the InSight lander into space and hurtled it towards Mars, on a mission to learn more about the inner working of our neighboring planet. Traveling with the lander was a pair of CubeSats tasked with documenting the journey.
Image of Mars sent back by one of the CubeSats in November 2018 1 photo
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
CubeSats are descendants of tools used by NASA to teach engineering students how to build a spacecraft. Because of their briefcase size, they have been selected to take part in a variety of future missions in space.

But at first more about their capabilities needed to be known.

Two CubeSats were launched together with InSight and acted as test subjects for future missions. Although hoping for a lot more, NASA was curious to see whether they would first survive during the months-long trip.

They did, and they documented InSight’s journey, taking photos, sending back data and acting as relays for the lander after it touched down.

Now, as they move further away from Mars, both CubeSats, nicknamed Wall-E and Eve, have fallen silent.

NASA said this week it lost contact with the pair as far back as December last year. Currently, Wall-E is more than 1 million miles (1.6 million km) past Mars, and Eve even further, at 2 million miles (3.2 million km).

NASA has little hope of ever hearing back from the CubeSats, despite planning an attempt to reach them by radio later this summer.

It’s unclear what parts of the CubeSats malfunctioned. The agency knows of a problem Wall-E has with a leaky thruster, and there’s also doubt the two are capable of correctly pointing their antennas towards Earth as they go deeper into space.

But that seems to be okay by NASA’s books.

"This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us," said in a statement Andy Klesh, the mission's chief engineer at JPL. "We've put a stake in the ground. Future CubeSats might go even farther."
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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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