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

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

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

While losing the MarCO spacecraft too early would be unfortunate, NASA said that they consider the mission a success.

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. But now, more than two months after InSight landed, the CubeSats have gone silent as they continue drifting past Mars, and NASA doesn't expect to hear from them again. They performed better than anyone could have expected, but we may never hear from them again.

In a February 5 statement, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that it not heard from either of the Mars Cube One, or MarCO, cubesats since the beginning of the year.

The twin CubeSats, nicknamed WALL-E and EVE, shadowed NASA's InSight lander to Mars a year ago.

Chief engineer Andy Klesh noted the mission was about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology.

Nasa has several theories about why it has lost contact with the pair - none of which involve the interference of aliens.

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According to a blog post published on Tuesday, Feb. 5, WALL-E and EVE (named after Pixar's Oscar-winning 2008 animated movie) are more than 1 million and nearly 2 million miles past Mars respectively.

Both spaceships will start moving towards the sun this summer and it's hoped they will spring back to life. If the brightness sensors that keep them pointing at the Sun have malfunctioned, the batteries may be unable to recharge.

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. CubeSats are scalable, however-WALL-E and EVE each contained 6 cube units.

Mars Cube One, or MarCO, consisted of two 14kg satellites named WALL-E and EVE. 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.

"We've put a stake in the ground", Klesh said in the JPL statement. Several of these systems were provided by commercial vendors, making it easier for other CubeSats to use them as well. 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.

Each weighing only 13.5kg and measuring about the size of a briefcase, the small spacecraft are much cheaper to manufacture and send to space than fully fledged probes. "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", said John Baker, the MarCO program manager at JPL, in the statement.

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