NASA's MarCO-B CubeSat Captures Earth-Moon Image

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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.

One of the CubeSats, called Marco-b and affectionately known as "Wall-E", used a wide angle "fisheye" lens to snap the photo on May 9. As a bonus, the team captured the Earth and the Moon in the shot.

According to NASA, the Earth-Moon duo photograph is the CubeSat version of the classic "pale blue dot" portrait of Earth which was taken from several billion miles away by Voyager 1 back in 1990.

Voyager 1 and 2 took advantage of a once in a lifetime event where a spacecraft could use the gravitational pull from different celestial bodies to visit all four giant outer planets - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

The result was an image that Sagan made famous in his 1994 book "Pale Blue Dot" - an image showing Earth as a barely visible bluish dot.

"Consider it our homage to Voyager", said Andy Klesh, MarCO's chief engineer.

"CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so its a big milestone". "Both our Cubesats are healthy and functioning properly. We're looking forward to seeing them travel even farther", he added.

Cubesats are becoming relatively common in Earth orbit, where they test various technologies, study and image Earth, and perform a number of other tasks.

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NASA has always been able to check out Mars on the ground with rovers and landers and from far above with orbital spacecraft. Earlier this week, they also proved the concept of small robotic satellites might be a game changer.

The first photo captured by one of NASA's two Mars Cube One (MarCO) cubesats, which launched along with the agency's InSight lander on May 5, 2018.

A cubesat is a miniature satellite that has been sent into space. They're about the size of a briefcase before the antenna and solar panels deploy. The better news is that Earth and the moon showed up in the frame as well. Though they were originally developed to teach university students about satellites, CubeSats are now a major commercial technology, providing data on everything from shipping routes to environmental changes.

Nasa chose to release the image taken by the minuscule satellites in homage to one of the space exploration programmes most famous predecessors, the Voyager missions. Its launch broke the record for the farthest such satellite in space after crossing 621,371 miles from Earth on May 8.

"After the Wright Brothers proved 117 years ago that powered, sustained, and controlled flight was possible here on Earth, another group of American pioneers may prove the same can be done on another world", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's science mission directorate in Washington.

"Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own", she said.

NASA is going to work on more antenna deployment tests in upcoming tests.

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