MarCO-B captured this image of Mars shortly after NASA's InSight landed successfully touching the red planet.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
The first small spacecraft ever leaving Earth's orbit has been silent for more than a month, NASA said today (February 5) in a Mars Cube One (MarCO) probes pair message.
The two MarCO spacecraft (called specifically MarCO-A and MarCO-B) were launched in May with NASA's InSight Lander as a demonstration project. The mission was intended to show that the small satellites that have spread in recent years could survive and perform useful science beyond the immediate vicinity of the Earth, and the MarCOs reached all their goals, NASA said.
"This mission was always pushing the boundaries of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us," said Andy Klesh, mission engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement. "We've put an effort into the ground. Future CubeSats can go even further."
InSight Lander could complete his own mission without his two small companions. But they were designed to pass on dangerous landing information to NASA's engineers faster than other communications systems on Mars could do.
And within minutes of the planned touchdown on November 26, the MarCO satellites sent home words that InSight had landed safely. One of the cubesats, MarCO-B, also captured incredible images of Mars itself as the little couple flew off the planet.
The $ 18.5 million mission met all its goals on the landing day, even though the spacecraft even barreled past Mars. They also captured hearts on their bold adventures, with MarCO-A named EVE and its partner called WALL-E, in honor of characters in the animated movie "WALL-E."
NASA estimates that MarCO-A, which last called home on January 4, is now nearly 2 million miles (3.2 million miles) across Mars. MarCO-B, which has been quiet since December 29, has traveled about half the distance past the planet.
Lots of threats could have benefited the two interplanetary spacecraft, but only if they are still out there will NASA ping cubesat again in the summer when their lanes carry MarCO's closer to Earth.
And meanwhile, NASA has plenty of plans to design additional small spacecraft based on the legacy of the first interplanetary cubesats.