The InSight launch earlier this month had a few stowaways: a pair of tiny CubeSats which might be already the farthest such tiny satellites have ever been from Earth — by an extended shot. And one in every of them obtained an opportunity to snap an image of their house planet as an homage to the Voyager mission’s famous “Pale Blue Dot.” It’s hardly as wonderful a shot as the unique, however it’s nonetheless cool.
The CubeSats, named MarCO-A and B, are an experiment to check the suitability of pint-size craft for exploration of the photo voltaic system; beforehand they’ve solely ever been deployed into orbit.
That modified on May 5, when the InSight mission took off, with the MarCO twins detaching on an analogous trajectory to the geology-focused Mars lander. It wasn’t lengthy earlier than they went farther than any CubeSat has gone earlier than.
A couple of days after launch MarCO-A and B have been about one million kilometers (621,371 miles) from Earth, and it was time to unfold its high-gain antenna. A fisheye digicam hooked up to the chassis had an eye fixed on the method and took a picture to send back home to tell mission management that each one was properly.
But as a bonus (although not by chance — only a few accidents occur on missions like this), Earth and the moon have been in full view as MarCO-B took its antenna selfie. Here’s an annotated model of the one above:
“Consider it our homage to Voyager,” mentioned JPL’s Andy Klesh in a news release. “CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it’s a big milestone. Both our CubeSats are healthy and functioning properly. We’re looking forward to seeing them travel even farther.”
So far it’s solely excellent news and validation of the concept low-cost CubeSats might probably be launched by the dozen to undertake minor science missions at a fraction of the price of one thing like InSight.
Don’t count on any extra snapshots from these guys, although. A JPL consultant informed me the cameras have been actually solely included to ensure the antenna deployed correctly. Really any photos of Mars or different planets most likely wouldn’t be value taking a look at twice — these are utility cameras with fisheye lenses, not the particular devices that orbiters use to get these nice planetary photographs.
The MarCOs will move by Mars on the similar time that InSight is making its touchdown, and relying on how issues go, they might even be capable of move on just a little helpful data to mission management whereas it occurs. Tune in on November 26 for that!