NASA hears MarCO CubeSats loud and clear from Mars

The two CubeSats proved more than able,

MarCO-B, one of the experimental Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats, took this image of Mars from about 4,700 miles (7,600 kilometers) away during its flyby of the Red Planet on Nov. 26, 2018. MarCO-B was flying by Mars with its twin, MarCO-A, to attempt to serve as communications relays for NASA’s InSight spacecraft as it landed on Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
MarCO-B, one of the experimental Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats, took this image of Mars from about 4,700 miles (7,600 kilometers) away during its flyby of the Red Planet on Nov. 26, 2018. MarCO-B was flying by Mars with its twin, MarCO-A, to attempt to serve as communications relays for NASA’s InSight spacecraft as it landed on Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On November 26, NASA’s InSight executed a soft touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet after slamming the Martian atmosphere at a whopping 12,300 mph and slowing down to five mph. A technology demonstration called Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats has also been launched on the same rocket as InSight.

The pair of briefcase-sized spacecraft — MarCO-A and B, completed a number of risky deep space navigation and communication experiments. After landing, the CubeSats sent data back to the Earth.

The CubeSats named: EVE and WALLE- used experimental radios and antennas to provide information on InSight’s landing team in just 8 minutes — the time it took for radio signals to travel from Mars to Earth.

MarCO chief engineer Andy Klesh of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said, “WALL-E and EVE performed just as we expected them to. They were an excellent test of how CubeSats can serve as ‘tag-alongs’ on future missions, giving engineers up-to-the-minute feedback during a landing.”

John Baker, JPL’s program manager for small spacecraft said, “CubeSats have incredible potential to carry cameras and science instruments out to deep space. 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.”

As a bonus, some consumer-grade cameras aboard MarCO provided “drive-by” images as the CubeSats sailed past Mars. MarCO-B was programmed to turn so that it could image the planet in a sequence of shots as it approached Mars.