NASA’s first deep space mini spacecraft go silent

MarCo spacecraft unlikely to be heard from again says NASA

The tiny briefcase-sized ships launched a year ago on a unsafe mission to "push the limits of experimental technology".

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.

It has been over a month since engineers have heard from MarCO, which followed Nasa's InSight to the Red Planet.

The launch of the two MarCO (short for Mars Cube One) spacecraft was a demonstration project and done in conjunction with the InSight lander to show the prowess of these small satellites.

The pair, nicknamed EVE and WALL-E, after Pixar's fictional robots, relayed information from InSight's descent.

"This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us", Andy Klesh of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement. They were nicknamed WALL-E and EVE after the Pixar characters of the same name and were last heard from on December 29 and January 4, respectively. Based on trajectory calculations, WALL-E is now more than 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) past Mars; EVE is farther, nearly 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) past Mars.

The mission team has several theories for why they have not been able to contact the pair. Additionally, one of WALL-E's thrusters is known to be leaking. If the brightness sensors that keep them pointing at the Sun have malfunctioned, the batteries may be unable to recharge. They are in orbit around the sun and the farther they are, the more hard it would be to contact them.

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They will continue to fly away from Earth as February goes on which means receiving data even more hard.

The MarCOs won't start moving toward the Sun again until this summer. It's unknown if the batteries or any other components will last that long, however.

Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Sciences Division, described the MarCo mission as "a demonstration of future potential capability" while MarCO program manager John Baker of JPL praised them as a technology affordable to private companies as well as to governments.

"We've put a stake in the ground", he said. 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.

WALL-E and EVE are the first interplanetary mission to use CubeSats, a class of mini-spacecraft.

Radio antennas: Like Earth, Mars wobbles a little as it rotates around its axis.

The systems used for the MarCOs are produced by commercial companies and are likely compatible with various other types of CubeSats. NASA is set to launch a variety of new CubeSats in coming years.

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