NASAs first deep space mini spacecraft go silent

NASAs first deep space mini spacecraft go silent

The tiny briefcase-sized ships launched previous year on a risky mission to "push the limits of experimental technology".

Two Nasa spacecraft are missing in space after travelling past Mars and zooming into infinity.

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.

After more than a month of radio silence, NASA says the mission team team 'considers it unlikely they'll be heard from again'.

It was accompanied by two tiny satellites called CubeSats, or in this case, MarCO, for Mars Cube One.

NASA scientists were interested in testing whether CubeSats could survive deep space as a part of the InSight Mars Lander mission.

Having travelled well past Mars, the twin CubeSats seem to have reached their limit, Nasa said in a statement.

The success of the MarCO mini satellites - named WALL-E and EVE in honor of the futuristic Pixar flick (which isn't as good as A Bug's Life) - was a long shot for NASA from the start. Based on trajectory calculations, WALL-E is now more than 1.6 million kilometers past Mars; EVE is farther, nearly 3.2 million kilometres past Mars.

Wall-E may have a faulty thruster, causing it to wobble as it can't control its position correctly, hampering its ability to send and receive coherent commands. Another possible issue would be some sort of failure with the brightness sensors that allow the spacecraft to point towards the sun to recharge. The MarCO sats are in orbit around the Sun and will only get farther away as February wears on. The satellites are still receding from the Sun, and their greater distance requires more precision in aiming their antennas toward Earth.

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NASA will attempt to contact them again this summer. It's unknown if the batteries or any other components will last that long, however.

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

"This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us", said Andy Klesh, the chief engineer of MarCO.

"We've put a stake in the ground", Klesh said in the JPL statement.

But the missions demonstrated that CubeSats are a viable option for relaying data from deep space back to Earth, and future missions may bring their own communications relay to monitor touchdown.

The systems used for the MarCOs are produced by commercial companies and are likely compatible with various other types of CubeSats.

More small spacecraft are on the way.

"There's big potential in these small packages", John Baker, the MarCO program manager at JPL said.

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