The launch of Insight earlier this month had some stowaways: a pair of tiny CubeSats that are already the furthest away from these small satellites have never been fired from Earth by a long shot. And one of them had the chance to take a picture of his hometown in tribute to the famous "Pale Blue Dot" mission Voyager. It 's not as amazing as the original but it' s still cool.
The CubeSats, named MarCO-A and B, are an experiment designed to test the suitability of a device the size of a pint to the solar system's exploration; previously, they had been deployed only in orbit.
That changed on May 5, when the Insight mission took off, the MarCO twins standing out on a trajectory similar to that of the Martian Geology-focused lander. They were soon to go further than any other CubeSat.
A few days after the launch, MarCO-A and B were about a million kilometers from Earth and it was time to deploy its high-gain antenna. A fisheye camera attached to the chassis was monitoring the process and taking a picture to send her home and inform the mission control that everything was fine.
But as a bonus (but not by accident – very few accidents happen in missions like this), the Earth and the Moon were in sight as MarCO-B took his selfie antenna. Here is an annotated version of the one above:
"Think of it as our tribute to Voyager," said Andy Klesh of the JPL in a press release. "CubeSats has never gone this far in space before, so it's a milestone.Our two CubeSats are healthy and working properly.We look forward to seeing them travel even further . "
Until now, this is only good news and a validation of the idea that CubeSats could be launched at the dozen to undertake minor science missions at a fraction of the time. cost of something like Insight.
Do not expect more snapshots of these guys, though. A representative of the JPL said that the cameras were only included to ensure the antenna was properly deployed. Really all images of Mars or other planets would probably not be worthy of being watched twice – these are utilitarian cameras with fisheye lenses, not the special instruments that orbits use to get those great shots planetary.
The MarCOs will go through Mars at the same time as Insight makes his landing, and depending on how things are going, they may even be able to convey a little useful information to control the mission while it happens. Give yourself November 26 for that!