The satellites show that NASA can use tiny CubeSats for deep space research work, and it could be part of future Mars missions.
NASA has tested two CubeSats known as MarCO-A and MarCO-B, a first for the class of tiny spacecraft that could have major implications for the future. NASA tested the satellites’ propulsion systems that will guid ethem to Mars, a process that is referred to as a trajectory correction maneuver that allows these tiny spacecraft to head toward the Red Planet.
These satellites will be part of Mars Cube One (MarCCO), a mission that launched on May 5 that will be combined with the InSight lander headed toward Mars that will arrive in late November. Unlike the InSight lander, which will perform important scientific work on the Red Planet, the MarCOs are only meant to test miniaturized communication and navigation for future CubeSats and will not be used for scientific purposes.
The satellites performed communication tests over recent weeks. They completed their tests on May 22, successfully demonstrating that low-cost CubeSats can be used in deep space.
“Over the past week, two CubeSats called MarCO-A and MarCO-B have been firing their propulsion systems to guide themselves toward Mars,” NASA said in a statement. “This process, called a trajectory correction maneuver, allows a spacecraft to refine its path to Mars following launch. Both CubeSats successfully completed this maneuver; NASA’s InSight spacecraft just completed the same process on May 22.
“The pair of CubeSats that make up the Mars Cube One (MarCO) mission both launched on May 5, along with the InSight lander, which is headed toward a Nov. 26 touchdown on the Red Planet. They were designed to trail InSight on the way to Mars, aiming to relay back data about InSight as it enters the planet’s atmosphere and attempts to land. The MarCOs were never intended to collect any science data; instead, they are a test of miniaturized communication and navigation technology that can blaze a path for future CubeSats sent to other planets.”