First CubeSats to travel the solar system snap 'Pale Blue Dot' homage

The planet Mars is shown in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope view taken on 12 May 2016 when it was 50 million miles from Earth

The photo released by NASA on Tuesday shows both the Earth and the Moon in one rather blurry shot. The image shows Earth as a faint blue tiny dot and a little further from it the even tinier dot that represents its natural satellite, the Moon. Also, they've already established a new world's record as they've become since may 8th the most distant satellites ever, as they've passed the 621,371 miles away from Earth checkpoint. The CubeSat used its fish-eye camera to capture the image and sent it back to Earth after the team successfully unfolded its high-gain antenna on May 9.

Formally known as Marco-b and its twin Marco-a, the two briefcase-sized objects are the only CubeSats to ever be launched into deep space.

The MarCO-B CubeSat saw Earth and the moon from over 600,000 miles away. Controllers on Earth will command the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight.

"Consider it our homage to Voyager", said Andy Klesh, MarCO's chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The CubeSats, named MarCO-A and -B, are the latest experiments to test the suitability of pint-size craft for exploration of the solar system.

"CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone", Klesh pointed out. 'Both our CubeSats are healthy and functioning properly.

The MarCO satellites are traveling separately from InSight, even though they launched aboard the same rocket. Most never go beyond Earth orbit; they generally stay below 497 miles (800 kilometers) above the planet. Originally developed to teach university students about satellites, these modular mini-satellites are now a major commercial technology, providing data on everything from shipping routes to environmental changes.

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The Mars Helicopter, an unmanned rotorcraft, will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover mission, now scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.

InSight won't rely on the MarCO mission for data relay. In order to create lift in the thin Martian atmosphere, the Mars Helicopter's twin, counter-rotating blades will spin at almost 3,000 rpm, almost 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth.

During InSight's entry, descent and landing (EDL) operations, the lander will transmit information in the UHF radio band to NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) flying overhead.

"Should they make it all the way to Mars, they will radio back data about InSight while it enters the atmosphere and descends to the planet's surface".

The helicopter will allow NASA to advance exploration on Mars for the future.

NASA plans to send a small helicopter to Mars that will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover mission.

They'll be subjected to the intense cold and radiation of deep space for six months, and it's unknown if the miniaturized satellites will be able to bear the extreme conditions.

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