NASA's Tiny Satellites Fall Silent After Proving New Tech at Mars

MarCo spacecraft unlikely to be heard from again says NASA

"MarCO was there to relay information back from InSight in real time, and we did that extraordinarily well", said Andy Klesh, MarCO chief engineer, at a press conference at JPL immediately after the successful InSight landing November 26.

NASA has said goodnight to its two experimental CubeSats, sent into space to monitor America's InSight probe as it landed on Mars, after failing to communicate with the gizmo duo since January. "Future CubeSats might go even farther", Andy Klesh, the mission's chief engineer said. 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. They were launched alongside the stationary lander InSight on May 5, 2018. Despite losing contact with the two spacecraft, NASA still considers the mission a complete success as they could still talk to them despite being so deep in space.

It's believed WALL-E is now more than one million miles past Mars whilst EVE is nearly two million miles away from the Red Planet. The MarCO CubeSats that were launched past year have been unable to communicate with NASA.

WALL-E, which had been leaking fuel since liftoff last May, last radioed back on December 29.

The twins, nicknamed EVE and WALL-E after characters from a Pixar film, served as communications relays during the InSight's Mars landing, beaming back data at each stage of its descent to the Martian surface in near-real time, along with InSight's first image.

Another possibility is that their brightness sensors malfunctioned, meaning they won't be able to determine where the sun is. They are in orbit around the sun and the farther they are, the more hard it would be to contact them.

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The farther they are, the more precisely they need to point their antennas to communicate with Earth.

However, Nasa admitted it's "anyone's guess whether their batteries and other parts will last that long". They both start inching closer to the Sun this summer, and the team will attempt to contact them again.

While losing the MarCO spacecraft too early would be unfortunate, NASA said that they consider the mission a success. NASA is set to launch a variety of new CubeSats in coming years.

The systems used for the MarCOs are produced by commercial companies and are likely compatible with various other types of CubeSats.

NASA now hope to use the technology for further projects with John Baker, MarCO programme manager concluding that there is "big potential" in the small packages. "CubeSats - part of a larger group of spacecraft called SmallSats - are a new platform for space exploration that is affordable to more than just government agencies".



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