NASA has officially announced that CubeSats will be making the journey to Mars. The CubeSats are built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and only measure at about 4-inches square. The great thing about these particular units is not only that they’re small, but that they also can relay real-time information back to Earth, which will be of huge benefit to those who are looking to get answers about the spacecraft that is carrying the CubeSats into space.
MarCO is going to be launching next spring, and given that the name of the mission is clearly driven toward Mars, the options are going to be plentiful for the craft to handle. Jim Green who leads this particular unit for NASA pointed out that, “MarCO is an experimental capability that has been added to the InSight mission, but is not needed for mission success.” He went on to point out that, “MarCO will fly independently to Mars.”
MarCO has a radio that is about the size of a softball, so given how impressive this flight is going to be to Mars, it’s happening on an incredibly small scale. The three CubeSats that will be on the craft, will be working with InSight and will be launched by an Atlas V rocket. Scientists believe that it will take about an hour for information to relay between the devices and Earth. That being said, there will be an uncomfortable hour of waiting spent for those here on Earth, which will be waiting for progress reports on the mission.
As the InSight lander makes its move for Mars it will be interesting to see how things work out. At this point, scientists and astronomers are hopeful, but can’t guarantee anything since this is a completely alien mission to anyone who has worked on these Mars-related projects before. It will be a serious accomplishment if these scientists are able to pull together the information and data collected from these CubeSats, but that’s something no one can absolutely predict.
JPL will be managing the MarCO from Washington, where the entire management team is staffed and working from. When this comes to fruition next year, it will be one of the most impressive feats to date – in the space world, and if something this small can have such a large impact – it will be momentous for a host of reasons.