The twin mini-satellites, endearingly dubbed “Wall-E” and “Eva”, have embarked on a trailblazing mission as the first-ever CubeSats to step outside Earth’s orbit and venture into deep space.
Built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, the pioneering satellites have been designated Mars Cube One, or MarCO, to mark their outstanding contribution to the development of further CubeSat technologies.
“Both MarCO-A and B say ‘Polo!’ It’s a sign that the little sats are alive and well,” said Andy Klesh, JPL’s chief engineer for the MarCO mission.
According to the news release, NASA received their radio signals a few hours after the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket lifted off from its launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with both the twin MarCO satellites and the InSight Mars lander onboard.
Soon after the May 5 launch, the twin satellites unfolded their solar panels just as they were programmed to do and beamed two radio signals back to Earth. NASA received the first MarCO radio call at 12:15 p.m. PST (3:15 p.m. EST), while the other signal was recorded at 1:58 p.m. PST (4:58 p.m. EST).
The U.S. space agency pointed out that this was no mere trifle, considering that “each spacecraft had to do a lot of things right by itself for the team to hear a signal.” NASA revealed that the computers inside the MarCO CubeSats hadn’t been turned on since mid-March when the briefcase-sized satellites were being prepped for their trip to Mars.
As a result, the “Wall-E” and “Eva” mini-satellites had to retain enough power in their batteries to be able to deploy their solar panels and stabilize their altitude. Moreover, the twin CubeSats had to position themselves toward the sun and turn on their radios without any help from the MarCO team back home.
All this CubeSat technology is now being tested for the first time, NASA reports, noting that the true goal of the MarCO satellites is not necessarily to relay the progress of the InSight Mars mission but to prove that CubeSats can be used in interplanetary missions.
In fact, the twin satellites are demonstrating a number of CubeSat technologies during their 205-day cruise to the Red Planet, including a folding high-gain antenna and a cold-gas propulsion system, notes Space.com.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the compressed gas system that will help them move around and steer over the InSight lander is what got them the “Wall-E” and “Eva” monikers.
If these brave little satellites make it to Mars and survive the extreme radiation conditions of deep space, “they’ll fly over the Red Planet during InSight’s entry, descent and landing” scheduled for November 26, NASA shows in the news release. This Mars flyby will mark the end of the $18.5 million MarCO mission, as NASA plans to use its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to further keep tabs on the progress of the InSight lander.