Published: Wed, May 16, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

NASA sending a tiny robot helicopter to Mars

NASA sending a tiny robot helicopter to Mars

"Both our Cubesats are healthy and functioning properly".

The two CubeSats, known together as Mars Cube One (MarCO-A and MarCO-B), are the first of their kind to venture into deep space.

MarCO-B is a CubeSat-a class of small, cube-shaped spacecraft that were originally created to teach university students about satellites. "We're looking forward to seeing them travel even farther", he added.

"CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone".

"Consider it our tribute to Voyager", stated the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory chief, Andy Klesh, who make reference to the similar Earth-Moon duo images sent back to Earth by the Voyager 1 probe, back in 1990.

This first MarCO image of Earth comes only a few days after the satellites' first radio call from outer space.

In the picture, which was taken from a record distance of about 3.7 billion miles, Earth appears to be smaller than a single pixel-a "pale blue dot" set against the vastness of space, as Sagan described it in a speech at Cornell University.

This first-ever image from the MarsCO mission was captured on May 9 by the "Wall-E" satellite, officially known as MarCO-B.

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NASA scientists weren't doing this for sport, but to see if the cubesat's antenna had unfolded - and worked. The two CubeSats sent to accompany and document the journey of InSight have already proven they're in working order.

According to a recent announcement by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the space agency's 2020 mission will involve an effort to fly a small electric helicopter on Mars. The satellite took the shot using its fisheye camera and beamed it back to Earth after the ground-control team properly unfolded its high-gain antenna on May 9.

The MarCo satellites and the InSight Mars lander are expected to reach the Red Planet on November 26. The lander - whose name is short for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport" - will perform three different experiments to investigate Mars' internal structure and composition over its roughly two-Earth-year prime mission.

The twin CubeSats are tasked with sending back radio data on the InSight's descent and landing on the Martian surface, as well as with demonstrating their cold-gas propulsion system.

"Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington via an agency-issued release.

Until then, however, the trailblazing CubeSats have a long way to go.

Going by the details shared by NASA, the electric helicopter will be affixed to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover.

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