In May 2018 NASA will launch two nanosatellites into outer space, which may offer new research perspectives of solar system.
The cost of exploratory space missions of other planets may reach billions of dollars. Spacecrafts are usually very complex and rather bulky. However, NASA is going to send two tiny satellites of CubeSat format to Mars as a part of project titled MarCO (Mars Cube One). This will be world’s first attempt to send these devices to outer space.
CubeSat standard was developed for educational projects – for the university students to create relatively simple satellites by themselves and to launch them into near-Earth orbit. Such devices look like cubes. Each of them is approximately 10x10x11.35 cm in size and weight up to 1.33 kg. You may easily increase the size of satellites by combining several of these cubes with each other – this is how “double” or “triple” CubeSat will be created. Complete specification of CubeSat format is available on the special website.
The simplest type of this satellite has no payload and performs no scientific or other tasks. It was designed for “training” purposes only. Eventually, various apparatus started to be installed and be used for rather serious scientific missions. The cost of one launch of this satellite is going down due to the fact that several dozens of them are launched at a time. Innovation House has already told about QB50 Project that explores Earth’s atmosphere at a height from 90 to 300 kilometers.
NASA will launch two nanosatellites along with its InSight mission, which allows for the landing on the actual surface of Mars for the study of the internal structure of the Red Planet. Devices are officially called MarCO-A and MarCO-B, however team members that have developed them, name them Wall-E and Eva – in honor of famous characters of Pixar’s animated feature film. Each of them consists of six “cubes” (three lengthwise, two widthwise, and one heightwise).
MarCO-A and MarCO-B consists of six standard “cubes”
The goal of these devices is to get to Mars by themselves and to transfer the information about InSight’s entry into the atmosphere of the Red Planet and about its landing as well. Success of InSight will be totally independent from how good nanosatellites will cope with their task and will they ever cope with it at all. After all, it will transmit its data directly to Earth station antenna or through more reliable “mediator”. Moreover, nanosatellites will not perform any scientific goal.
The main goal of MarCO is to check how similar tiny devices will operate in outer space. Indeed, none of them has never operated under severe radiation from the sun and has never reached any other solar system body.
Devices will be driven by compressed gas, like the one used in fire extinguishers. They will also be equipped with the batteries to unfurl their solar arrays that will generate enough energy to transmit signals to Earth.
NASA reported that mission success is not guaranteed, since similar tasks have never been performed before. At the same time, it is hoped that CubeSat satellites will open up new possibilities for studying the solar system.
As a reminder, Innovation House has reported about how Ukrainian researchers are going to conduct unique cosmobiological experiment using the nanosatellite developed in Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.