CubeSats to Play a Crucial Role as Insight Lander Descends to Mars in March Next Year

NASA  is working on another  project: CubeSats.  CubeSats are  small spacecrafts that uses off the shelf technologies.  Come 2016, when NASA launches  its  InSight lander  to Mars, they will likewise send two state-of-the-art CubeSats.

CubeSats , even those that are made by university students, have  flown  into Earth’s orbit  by the dozen using extra payload mass from  larger spacecraft  liftoffs.

These will act  as  communication satellite to NASA’s ground team, thus making  communication from  outer space faster and more reliable.

NASA explains that these CubeSats are critical to their information gathering about the  InSight lander after it descends to Mars.

CubeSats, a twin communication relay satellite, also called Mars Cube One (MarCO) are being built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. MarCO is scheduled  for launching  in March 2016 aboard the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket along with the mission’s main spacecraft, InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) lander.

Although all three space vessels will leave the Earth together, the two CubeSats will work independently, merely flying by  Mars and serving its purpose of transmitting  valuable information about the InSight lander while  the larger spacecraft  will land on the Red Planet  in September of 2016.

After its launch, the two CubeSats will separate from the Atlas V booster, flying through their own trajectories to Mars.  Once on their own,  MarCO’s first  job is that of deploying two radio antennas and two solar panels.

“MarCO is an experimental capability that has been added to the InSight mission, [of understanding  Mars’ interior structure] but is not needed for mission success,” elucidates Director Jim Green, of the planetary science division at the NASA’s  headquarters in Washington, DC.

If the MarCO project succeeds, it will make space exploration to Mars  a breeze, allowing for the possibility of  a ” ‘bring-your-own’ ” communications relay option” in future explorations of the Red Planet.


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