Published: Wed, May 16, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

NASA satellite snaps adorable Earth portrait on way to Mars

NASA satellite snaps adorable Earth portrait on way to Mars

The MarCO satellites are one-of-a-kind CubeSats that have taken on the bold mission of traveling 301 million miles (or about 485 million kilometers) to the Red Planet.

Almost 30 years after Voyager 1 sent back to Earth a photo of humanity's home planet, taken from several billion miles away, the two CubeSats, nicknamed by NASA engineers Wall-E and Eva, did the same, but from a distance of only 621,371 miles (1 million kilometers).

Tiny satellites named Wall-E and Eva are about to take a trip to Mars.

The image, taken by MarCO-B or Wall-E CubeSat, shows Earth as a faint blue dot and the moon, sitting a little far from it, as an even fainter mark. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the twin CubeSats radioed NASA shortly after their May 5 launch, confirming that they're doing well and that they managed to unfold their solar panels.

According to a recent announcement by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the space agency's 2020 mission will involve an effort to fly a small electric helicopter on Mars.

'The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it's already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000ft (30,480m) up'.

The "Wall-E" CubeSat took a "pale blue dot image" of Earth and the moon from more than 600 thousand miles away. As the instrument is critical for transmitting mission-related data back to Earth, its deployment was verified with quick image-taking exercise. It's nearly imperceptible, but a faint blue dot in the middle right.

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"We're looking forward to seeing them travel even farther", says Andy Klesh, MarCO's chief engineer. "Both our Cubesats are healthy and functioning properly". They are now traveling towards Mars in support of NASA's InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) robotic lander, which will attempt to touch down on the Red Planet on November 26.

As for MarCO-A and MarCO-B, they represent a premiere in the CubeSat's world.

They'll be subjected to the intense cold and radiation of deep space for six months, and it's unknown if the miniaturized satellites will be able to bear the extreme conditions. The space agency also launched two CubeSats, briefcase-size mini-satellites.

If they do make it to Mars and successfully relay information back to Earth, they will have demonstrated that perhaps small satellites may have a place in deep space as a part of a NASA mission after all.

That said, the agency plans to conduct more antenna deployment tests over coming weeks, but the main mission for the CubeSats is to follow the lander all the way to Mars and demonstrate the suitability of small spacecraft beyond in deep-space.

MarCO-B is a CubeSat-a class of small, cube-shaped spacecraft that were originally created to teach university students about satellites.

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