NASA's First Deep Space Mini Spacecraft Go Silent

MarCO-B one of the experimental Mars Cube One CubeSats took these images as it approached Mars

Although they may never wake up, they will be remembered for the marvelous images of Mars they managed to beam back. The satellites have not communicated with the government space agency for more than a month, NASA said on Tuesday. As InSight landed on Mars, the MarCO cubesats flew by the planet, serving as communications relays to allow controllers to get real-time telemetry from InSight as it landed.

The twin CubeSats, nicknamed WALL-E and EVE, shadowed NASA's InSight lander to Mars past year.

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

Mission scientists have several theories as to why the CubeSats lost contact. Trajectory data suggests that Wall-E is more than 1 million miles past Mars with EVE being almost 2 million miles past Mars. "Future CubeSats might go even farther", Klesh said.

EVE and WALL-E were used to ferry communications from InSight and helped beam data back from the rover.

In any case, the NASA team considers MarCO a "spectacular success" since they have shown that such small (the size of a briefcase) and relatively cheap (around $18.5 million per mission) satellites can operate in deep space. WALL-E has a "leaky thruster", which could be affected by attitude-control issues and cause it to "wobble and lose the ability to send and receive commands". CubeSats are scalable, however-WALL-E and EVE each contained 6 cube units.

"CubeSats have incredible potential to carry cameras and science instruments out to deep space", said John Baker, JPL's program manager for small spacecraft.

The stationary lander has been quietly toiling away and sending back selfies to assure everyone that it's doing just fine, even as MarCO disappears into the void. It's been making adjustments to that for the past few weeks. To do that, an instrument shield was designed which has now been deployed as a first line of defense: It's a white dome with a chain mail and thermal blanket skirt on the bottom called the "Wind and Thermal Shield".

This week, InSight placed a protective domed shield over the seismometer to make sure the data it collects is accurate, since factors like wind can create disruptions. The shield was also created to help stabilize temperature. Since wild temperature swings on Mars can mean fluctuations of about 170 degrees Farenheit over the course of a Martian day (sol), contractions and expansions of the seismometer were a problem needing to be addressed.

"Temperature is one of our biggest bugaboos", InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt said. It keeps SEIS from warming up too much during the day or cooling off too much at night. After a ideal live-streamed Martian surface landing shortly thereafter, Earthlings were treated to a (slightly dusty) photo taken by one of InSight's on-board cameras, providing visual confirmation of the arrival.

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