Published: Thu, May 17, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

NASA's CubeSat Captures Earth-Moon Duo

NASA's CubeSat Captures Earth-Moon Duo

Nasa chose to release the image taken by the miniature satellites in homage to one of the space exploration programmes most famous predecessors, the Voyager mission.

Earth appears as a pale blue speck, and to its left is an even fainter speck: our moon.

NASA set a new distance record for CubeSats on May 8 after Mars Cube One (MarCO) snapped a photo of our planet 621,371 miles away.

Tiny satellites named Wall-E and Eva are about to take a trip to Mars. Impressive as it is, this feat also acted as a test to see whether the spacecraft's high-gain antenna has properly unfolded.

In over five decades of robotic exploration, NASA has sent orbiters, landers, rovers and even Cubesats to Mars.

According to NASA, the Earth-Moon duo photograph is the CubeSat version of the classic "pale blue dot" portrait of Earth which was taken from several billion miles away by Voyager 1 back in 1990.

As a bonus, it captured Earth and its moon as tiny specks floating in space, the U.S. space agency added.

MarCO-B - nicknamed Wall-E by spacecraft engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory - acquired this image on May 9, 2018.

MarCO-A and MarCO-B, which were built at JPL, are conducting a demonstration mission - basically, their handlers aim to show that cubesats can indeed help explore distant destinations.

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'CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone, ' Dr Klesh added.

MarCO's softball-size radio provides both UHF (receive only) and X-band (receive and transmit) functions capable of immediately relaying information received over UHF. Namely, they are the first of their kind to travel in deep space.

The two little spacecraft are the first CubeSats ever to travel to interplanetary space.

Most never go beyond Earth orbit; they generally stay below 800 kilometres above the planet.

They were originally developed to teach university students about satellites, CubeSats are now a major commercial technology, providing data on everything from shipping routes to environmental changes.

MarCO-A and MarCO-B - were launched on May 5 along with the InSight lander, a spacecraft that will touch down on Mars and study the planet's deep interior for the first time.

The Mars Helicopter, an unmanned rotorcraft, will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover mission, now scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet. In order to create lift in the thin Martian atmosphere, the Mars Helicopter's twin, counter-rotating blades will spin at almost 3,000 rpm, almost 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth.

By receiving MarCO-B's first snapshot of Earth, the space agency now has confirmation that the satellites have successfully deployed their high-gain antennas as well. "However, these CubeSat missions are not needed for InSight's mission success. The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery, and exploration missions to Mars".

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