Publicado: Sáb, Febrero 09, 2019
Ciencia | Por Aurelio Ontiveros

NASAs first deep space mini spacecraft go silent

NASAs first deep space mini spacecraft go silent

"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.

While the two Mars Cube One satellites have launched towards Mars as a test project for advanced communication systems in deep space, the fact that they went "dark" is puzzling the USA space agency's scientists.

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. "Future CubeSats might go even farther", Klesh added. 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.

NASA, meanwhile, is still trying to contact the Mars lander Opportunity, silenced last June by a global dust storm that prevented sunlight from reaching its solar panels.

NASA's first interplanetary mission to use a class of mini-spacecraft has fallen silent in deep space and it is unlikely that they will be heard again, the USA space agency has said.

NASA said that based on trajectory calculations, WALL-E is more than 1 million miles past Mars, while EVE is nearly 2 million miles past the Red Planet. But their real mission was simply to show off their abilities so far from home and prove that such small missions - the total MarCO program only cost $18.5 million - could succeed in deep space. Wall-E fell silent on December 29, while Eve survived a little longer but stopped talking after January 4.

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EVE and WALL-E were used to ferry communications from InSight and helped beam data back from the rover.

Several theories are floating about (pun intended) as to why NASA has not been able to contact the two cubesats.

The MarCO spacecraft were 6U cubesats launched in May 2018 as secondary payloads on the Atlas 5 that sent the InSight mission to Mars. "The farther they are, the more precisely they need to point their antennas to communicate with Earth", NASA JPL said in a statement.

The InSight team will attempt to communicate with the MarCO satellites in the summer when they get closer to the Sun, according to a press release. The team will reattempt to contact the CubeSats at that time, though it's anyone's guess whether their batteries and other parts will last that long.

Even if they're never revived, the team considers MarCO a spectacular success. "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".

"There's big potential in these small packages".

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