MarCO satellites go dark after helping with Mars landing

MISSING NASA has lost contact with two of its Mars robots

MISSING NASA has lost contact with two of its Mars robots

But their real mission was simply to show off their abilities so far from home and prove that such small missions - the total MarCO program only cost $18.5 million - could succeed in deep space.

The twin cubesats that played a key role in NASA's most recent Mars lander mission have been out of contact with the Earth for more than a month, suggesting their trailblazing mission has come to an end.

The craft were near Mars when Insight made its descent onto the Red Planet, providing backup observation and connectivity. They performed better than anyone could have expected, but we may never hear from them again.

Klesh said then that the project was discussing with NASA potential extended missions involving the MarCO cubesats as they flew away from the planet into interplanetary space, such as collecting engineering data on the performance of the cubesats and "seeing what other great science and lessons we can pull from those craft".

NASA launched a pair of spacecraft that were very small, about the size of a briefcase, known collectively as MarCO a year ago.

WALL-E, which had been leaking fuel since liftoff last May, last radioed back on December 29.

"This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us", stated Andy Klesh, the mission's chief engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab. WALL-E is now over 1.6 million kilometres away from Mars and EVE has ventured even further - 3.2 million kilometres from the Red Planet. Based on trajectory calculations, WALL-E is now more than 1.6 million km past Mars.

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The mission team has several theories for why they have not been able to contact the pair. Both of the machines will begin heading back towards the Sun in a few months, at which point NASA will once again attempt to wake them up, but whether they'll be up for a chat is anyone's guess. They are in orbit around the sun and the farther they are, the more hard it would be to contact them. "On top of that, the CubeSats" batteries may be long dead and fail to recharge by the time they are bathed in full sunlight once more.

NASA said that the pair will not begin moving toward the sun until this summer.

While losing the MarCO spacecraft too early would be unfortunate, NASA said that they consider the mission a success.

"We've put a stake in the ground", he said. The mission could foretell a future of spacecraft bringing more CubeSats with them in the future.

The MarCO spacecraft were 6U cubesats launched in May 2018 as secondary payloads on the Atlas 5 that sent the InSight mission to Mars.

JPL spokesman Andrew Good said February 5 that after the flyby the MarCO cubesats continued to transmit technical data about the performance of their various subsystems, including attitude control, propulsion and communications.

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