Picture provided by NASA/JPL
If everything goes according to plan, a Mars lander, one of NASA’s next missions, will have its liftoff on May 5 this year, with two hitchhiker satellites onboard, which is the very first spacecraft to leave the safety of the Earth’s orbit.
Each of the satellite has a size similar to a briefcase, which will run a separate mission from the main lander. The creators nicknamed them as Wall-E and Eva, taken from the Pixar film. If their voyage would be successful, MarCO-A as well as MarCO-B will serve as relay stations around the Red Planet. As a result, communication would be much clear and convenient.
MarCO project chief engineer Andy Klesh said that the spacecraft would act as scouts. CubeSats, the name for small satellites, got their popularity for use in the Earth’s orbit because they are affordable to develop as well as launch. Overall, there are more than 700 CubeSats that have been sent to the outer space.
However, compared to other CubeSats, the MarCO satellites will be driven by a gas that is often utilized in most fire extinguishers. Each can shoot that compressed gas in different directions to steer. Other CubeSats employ electromagnetic steering with the magnetic field around the Earth.
This new steering mechanism is very significant because every NASA’s CubeSat satellite has stayed in the Earth’s orbit to date. The two satellites such as the Wall-E and the Eva will be the first to wander farther in space. This means that they will face a lot of extreme dangers that other CubeSats have successfully escaped.
One of the threats is radiation that potentially damages robotic space explorer or worse affect the entire mission. The moment they survive the perilous journey to the Red Planet within a long span of time, they will serve as relay messengers, pick up strong signals from InSight lander, and send these signals to our planet.
Once the mission becomes a success, communication between Mars and Earth will be as easy as eating a pie. It will be faster than the agency’s scientists have ever thought. Good thing is that it is an experiment with a low risk. InSight lander has been specially tailored to send signals as well. Whether the CubeSats make it or become a failure, the primary spacecraft will be the one to send signals to the Earth.