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techkenyot.com April 22, 2019


MarCO CubeSats no longer communicating with Earth

09 February 2019, 10:52 | Edward Lowe

Modal Trigger NASA satellite MarCO-B took this image of Mars during its flyby of the Red Planet on Nov. 26 2018. NASA JPL-Caltech

NASA satellite MarCO-B took this image of Mars during its flyby of the Red Planet on Nov. 26 2018

The MarCO CubeSats that were launched a year ago have been unable to communicate with NASA.

Twin tiny satellites launched with NASA's Mars InSight lander in May 2018 have been out of touch with mission controllers on Earth for slightly over a month.

During InSight's entry, descent and landing on November 26, the MarCO satellites received and transmitted communication from the lander to let NASA know that InSight was safely on the surface of the Red Planet. At the time, the MarCO team collected data from each satellite to determine how much fuel they had left and took a deeper look at how they performed.

MarCO-B, one of the experimental Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats, took these images as it approached Mars.

WALL-E and EVE are the first interplanetary mission to use CubeSats, a class of mini-spacecraft.

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There's a small chance that Wall-E and Eve could spring back to life.

Chief engineer Andy Klesh noted the mission was about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology. Wall-E fell silent on December 29, while Eve survived a little longer but stopped talking after January 4. Trajectory data suggests that Wall-E is more than 1 million miles past Mars with EVE being almost 2 million miles past Mars.

Mission scientists have several theories as to why the CubeSats lost contact.

The pair of spacecraft were named EVE and Wall-E after characters from the popular Pixar film.

Wall-E may have a faulty thruster, causing it to wobble as it can't control its position correctly, hampering its ability to send and receive coherent commands.

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"The brightness sensors that allow the CubeSats to stay pointed at the Sun and recharge their batteries could be another factor", NASA JPL added in the statement.

Although the team will re-attempt to contact the CubeSats at that time, it is doubtful whether their batteries and other parts will last that long, as the farther they are, the more precisely they need to point their antennas to communicate with Earth.

The two Marc Cube One satellites will move again toward the Sun during the summer. The team will reattempt to contact the CubeSats at that time, though whether their batteries and other parts will last that long cannot be predicted.

Collectively known as MarCO, the pair launched past year and were purely a speculative mission to see if they were able to operate in deep space.

"We've put a stake in the ground", he said. Inside the dome, the seismometer is also contained in a titanium, vacuum-sealed container, the combination of which helps insulate the instrument even further from environmental hazards. NASA plans to repurpose some of the spare parts used in their construction, such as antennas, experimental radios, and propulsion systems, to build additional CubeSats scheduled to launch in the near future.

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JPL spokesman Andrew Good said February 5 that after the flyby the MarCO cubesats continued to transmit technical data about the performance of their various subsystems, including attitude control, propulsion and communications.



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