NASA's CubeSat Captures Earth-Moon Duo

Enlarge Image The MarCO-B Cube Sat saw Earth and the moon from over 600,000 miles away.                  NASA  JPL-Caltech

Now a class of tiny, boxy spacecraft, known as CubeSats, have just taken their own version of a "pale blue dot" image, capturing Earth and its moon in one shot, NASA said on Tuesday.

One of the backpack-size "CubeSat" spacecraft recently took a photo 621,371 miles (1 million kilometers) away from home.

"We're looking forward to seeing them travel even farther", says Andy Klesh, MarCO's chief engineer.

The image was taken by one of the CubeSats, known as MarCO-B or Wall-E CubeSat.

"CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone", Klesh said. "Both our Cubesats are healthy and functioning properly".

The MarCO satellites are traveling separately from InSight, even though they launched aboard the same rocket.

Just like the "marscopter" that the space agency is planning to launch on the upcoming Mars 2020 mission, the MarCO satellites represent a demonstration technology aimed to test CubeSat capabilities on an alien planet, as well as their resistance to the extreme radiation of deep space.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said, "Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future". They're flying along behind NASA's InSight lander on its cruise to Mars. Since MarCO adds formatting information, as well as a small amount of spacecraft information, to the datastream, the delay is expected to increase as more data are sent from InSight.

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For InSight, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will handle day-to-day data relay duties. Voyager 1 is now 13 billion miles away from Earth, travelling northward through space.

The Mars Helicopter program began four years ago at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab.

NASA sent two 30-pound (13.5-kilogram) CubeSats for redundancy in case one of the MarCO probes runs into trouble. Later this month, the pair of tiny satellites will attempt the first trajectory correction maneuvers ever done by a CubeSat. However, as a bonus, that photo included Earth and moon in full view.

But they do not carry the typical propellants used by satellites. In the movie, the sentient Wall-E robot uses a fire extinguisher to propel through space.

A tiny satellite is on its mission to the Mars.

The Voyager crafts have set numerous records since they were launched in 1977, including Voyager 1 becoming the only spacecraft to have entered interstellar space. InSight's observations should help researchers better understand how rocky planets form and evolve, NASA officials have said. Also, to these, it also performs other specific tasks.

The CubeSats have been initially engineered for testing and research but are now a crucial element of all important commercial missions, according to a press release issued by NASA.

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