Earth and our moon in the center, was acquired by MarCO-B CubeSat on May 9.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

En route to the Red Planet are NASA’s Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats. The two MarCO CubeSats were launched on May 5 along with NASA’s InSight lander, a spacecraft that will touch down on Mars November 26 and study the planet’s deep interior for the first time.

Engineer Joel Steinkraus uses sunlight to test the solar arrays on one of the Mars Cube One (MarCO) spacecraft at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it’s a big milestone. Both our CubeSats are healthy and functioning properly,” said Andy Klesh, MarCO’s chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Coming up: trajectory correction maneuvers

The MarCO CubeSats will follow along behind InSight during its cruise to Mars.

Should the CubeSats make it all the way to Mars, they will radio back data about InSight while it enters the atmosphere and descends to the planet’s surface. The high-gain antennas on the CubeSats are key to that effort; the MarCO team have early confirmation that the antennas have successfully deployed, but will continue to test them in the weeks ahead.

Outward bound for Mars, InSight lander. Photo taken shortly after release from Atlas V upper stage.
Credit: Atlas V InSight Rocket Cam/ULA

 

The InSight lander won’t rely on the MarCO mission for data relay. That job will fall to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

MarCO-A and B.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Later this month, the MarCOs will attempt the first trajectory correction maneuvers ever performed by CubeSats, steering them towards Mars.

 

“The initial checkout after launch was very successful and the spacecraft is healthy,” said Lockheed Martin’s Tim Linn, InSight deputy program manager and entry, descent and landing manager. Lockheed Martin built InSight.

“We are planning our first trajectory correction maneuver, or TCM, on May 22 to make a slight adjustment on our path to Mars. We do not plan a second TCM until the end of July,” Linn told Inside Outer Space.

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