Tiny satellites fall silent after proving new tech at Mars


The mission's chief engineer, Andy Flesh said: "This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturised technology and seeing just how far it could take us".

The launch of the two MarCO (short for Mars Cube One) spacecraft was a demonstration project and done in conjunction with the InSight lander to show the prowess of these small satellites.

MarCO, also known as the Mars Cube One, have fallen silent, according to NASA, and mission engineers are not expecting to hear from it again. Inside the dome, the seismometer is also contained in a titanium, vacuum-sealed container, the combination of which helps insulate the instrument even further from environmental hazards.

Attitude-control issues could be causing them to wobble and lose the ability to send and receive commands, NASA said in a statement. They launched with InSight on the same rocket, but then separated and made their own way to Mars.

Before the pair of briefcase-sized spacecraft known collectively as MarCO launched previous year, their success was measured by survival: If they were able to operate in deep space at all, they would be pushing the limits of experimental technology.

After more than a month of radio silence, NASA says the mission team team 'considers it unlikely they'll be heard from again'. Nicknamed "EVE" and "WALL-E" it is thought the spacecraft are now millions of miles beyond Mars.

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MarCO launched to Mars behind the InSight mission and were meant to act as relays for data during each stage of the InSight landing process in near-real time, that mission was a success. On top of that, the CubeSats' batteries may be long dead and fail to recharge by the time they are bathed in full sunlight once more.

Mission scientists have several theories as to why the CubeSats lost contact. JPL said they still have a number of the critical spare parts that can be used to build more CubeSats.

Both of the machines will begin heading back towards the Sun in a few months, at which point NASA will once again attempt to wake them up, but whether they'll be up for a chat is anyone's guess. It's unknown if the batteries or any other components will last that long, however.

After that, the team said if they made it that far it would already be a major success. That includes their experimental radios, antennas and propulsion systems. "CubeSats - part of a larger group of spacecraft called SmallSats - are a new platform for space exploration that is affordable to more than just government agencies".

With EVE and WALL-E's success, NASA is set to continue launching a variety of new CubeSats in the coming years.

"There's big potential in these small packages", John Baker, the MarCO program manager at JPL said.