US space agency NASA will be launching a pair of Bantam CubeSats in March 2016; the duo will be used for getting real-time landing coverage of the agency’s upcoming mission to the red Planet. Here, it must be mentioned that CubeSats are small satellites whose standard size is 4x4x4 inches.
The CubeSats, which are referred to as MarCO or Mars Cube One, will be launched as secondary payloads aboard the Atlas V rocket, a rocket carrying the agency’s InSight lander. The CubeSats will be separated from the booster after being launched and then travel towards Mars along their respective trajectories.
One of the two MarCO spacecrafts will play the role of a relay satellite and send back data to Earth when the InSight will enter, descend and land on Mars in September 2016. The other MarCO spacecraft will be there as a backup.
According to Andrew Klesh of the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, the MarCO mission described above will mark a significant step forward in the process of advancement of CubeSats. He informed that this would be a big development as the CubeSats, to date, have primarily been used in the Earth orbit.
According to Klesh, during the last ten to 15 years NASA has put in a lot of effort for making CubeSats. He believes that all those efforts are allowing the satellites to go to Mars in 2016. Klesh made all these statements at this year’s Annual CubeSat Developers’ Workshop held in San Luis Obispo, CA. The MarCO mission of NASA was also unveiled by Klesh at the same event.
Klesh stated that without the MarCO spacecraft NASA wouldn’t have managed to get real-time telecast of the entry, descent and landing of InSight. The collected data will be transmitted by InSight to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of NASA.
When talking about the CubeSats built for this upcoming mission to Mars, Klesh said that NASA will be using a couple of 6U CubeSats for its Mars mission. He added that the duo will be equipped with a series of advanced technologies developed in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the agency. In addition to all these, the CubeSats, according to Klesh, will also be partnered by several vendors of this community.