Along with the InSight robotic lander, NASA also launched two CubeSats called MarCO-A and MarCO-B to planet Mars last month.
So, after a successful trajectory correction maneuver, CubeSats are now heading towards the red planet. The InSight spacecraft has also completed the process on 22 May.
The pair of CubeSats that make up the Mars Cube One (MarCO) mission both launched on May 5. InSight lander, also launched in the same day, is headed toward a Nov. 26 touchdown on the Red Planet.
MarCO is a mission on its own. So, the satellites will navigate to Mars independent of Insight, with their own course adjustments on the way.
Scientists designed MarCOs to trail InSight on the way to Mars. Therefore, aiming to relay back data about InSight as it enters the planet’s atmosphere and attempts to land. So, the CubeSats will not collect any scientific data. Instead, NASA is using them to test miniaturized communication and navigation technology that can pave the way for future CubeSats sent to other planets.
If both CubeSats make a trip to Mars, scientists will use them for a further exploration of solar system.
“Our broadest goal was to demonstrate how low-cost CubeSat technology can be used in deep space for the first time. With both MarCOs on their way to Mars, we’ve already traveled farther than any CubeSat before them.” John Bake who built both MarCO CubeSats and leads the mission said.
Different from MarCO-A, MarCO-B faced some unexpected challenges. Leaky thruster valve caused small trajectory changes. However, NASA engineers are optimistic that MarCO-B can still perform a trajectory correction maneuver.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that MarCO-B can follow MarCO-A,” said Joel Krajewski of JPL, MarCO’s project manager. “But we wanted to take more time to understand the underlying issues before attempting the next course-correction maneuver.”
Thumbnail image: An artist’s concept of one of NASA’s MarCO CubeSats. The twin MarCOs are the first CubeSats to complete a trajectory correction maneuver, firing their thrusters to guide themselves toward Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech