Nasa's first mini-spacecraft in deep space go silent

Katie Ramirez
February 9, 2019

"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.

Scientists working on the Mars Cube One (MarCO) mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena have not heard from the pair of briefcase-sized spacecraft for over a month now, raising concerns the twins may have reached their limit and run out of power after a successful Mars fly-by.

Nasa has lost touch with the first mini-spacecraft that ventured into deep space, according to the United States space agency which said that it is unlikely the twin CubeSats will be heard from again.

Both spacecraft won't start moving toward the Sun again until the summer, at which time, NASA JPL will attempt to contact them again, assuming the batteries and other parts last until then.

A pair of small satellites that joined the InSight mission on its way to Mars haven't been heard from in over a month-but the experimental mission is still an important success for NASA. WALL-E is now over 1.6 million kilometres away from Mars and EVE has ventured even further - 3.2 million kilometres from the Red Planet.

'This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us, ' said Klesh. 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. "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". Based on trajectory calculations, WALL-E is now more than 1.6 million kilometers past Mars; EVE is farther, nearly 3.2 million kilometres past Mars.

EPL: Sarri names best team in England, Europe
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has remained optimistic about his team's chances of winning ahead of their Premier League clash against Manchester City on Sunday.

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

"WALL-E has a leaky thruster".

In any event, the mini satellites will remain in an elongated orbit around the sun. 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.

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. Several of these systems were provided by commercial vendors, making it easier for other CubeSats to use them as well. "We've put a stake in the ground. Future CubeSats might go even farther", Klesh added.

This paves the way for new CubeSats that NASA will launch.

"There's big potential in these small packages", John Baker, the MarCO program manager at JPL said.

Other reports by

Discuss This Article