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  • richardmitnick 1:40 pm on November 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: MarCO CubeSats, , , , NASA’s InSight Lander Is Already Snapping Amazing Pictures of Mars   

    From Motherboard: “NASA’s InSight Lander Is Already Snapping Amazing Pictures of Mars” 


    From Motherboard

    Nov 27 2018
    Becky Ferreira

    On its first sol on the red planet, the mission sent home images of a dusty landscape, a lander selfie, and a wide shot of Mars from space.

    NASA’s InSight lander takes its first selfie on November 26, 2018. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    Shortly after it successfully touched down on Mars on Monday, NASA’s InSight lander took a selfie showing off its new home in the Elysium Planitia region. The picture was taken by the mission’s Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC), mounted on the lander’s robotic arm, and captures the upper deck of InSight’s instrument package, against a backdrop of flat Martian terrain.

    Though it was InSight’s first selfie on the red planet, it was not the first picture the lander sent back to Earth. Just minutes after its nail-biting touchdown, InSight sent a quick landscape shot home to the mission control team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    This image was taken with the Instrument Context Camera (ICC), which is attached directly to the lander’s deck and provides a wide-angle fisheye view of the landscape. The ICC lens is speckled with dust kicked up by the retrorockets that guided the craft safely down to its landing site.

    But the lander wasn’t the only mission component busy snapping exhilarating new pictures of Mars. Perhaps the most groundbreaking snapshot came from MarCO-B, a trailblazing satellite that imaged Mars during its flyby at a distance of about 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers).


    JPL Cubesat MarCO Mars Cube

    MarCO-B, along with its twin MarCO-A—nicknamed “Wall-E” and “EVE” respectively—are both CubeSats, a class of miniaturized cubic satellite introduced to reduce the cost of spaceflight. Hundreds of CubeSats have been deployed in low Earth orbit, but the MarCO satellites are the first to voyage into deep space.

    The CubeSats are about the size of a shoebox, and were launched with the InSight lander back in May, before separating from the main spacecraft to pursue their own trajectories to Mars. Just a few days into the trip, MarCO-B took this picture of Earth with its wide field camera.

    The MarCO satellites were not essential for the mission, and were bundled into InSight to test out CubeSat performance in deep space. Their successful communications performance and the dazzling shots bode well for the use of CubeSats in interplanetary missions.

    Given how many fascinating visuals InSight has sent home on its very first sol on Mars, it seems like the mission is already paying off. No doubt the lander will produce many more stunning pictures—not to mention tantalizing data about Mars’ interior—in the years to come.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 1:11 pm on November 23, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , MarCO CubeSats, ,   

    From Science News: “Tiny satellites will relay news of InSight’s Mars landing in minutes, not hours” 

    From Science News

    November 18, 2018
    Lisa Grossman

    Two CubeSats will send data back to Earth of the lander’s fate as they pass the Red Planet.

    BOLDLY GOING Two briefcase-sized satellites, shown side by side in this artist’s rendering, will become the first tiny spacecraft to fly by Mars and act as communications relays for a lander.

    The next spacecraft set to land on Mars is bringing its own communications team. InSight, a lander scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet on November 26, is accompanied by a pair of briefcase-sized spacecraft that will send details of the landing to Earth in almost real time.

    NASA/Mars InSight Lander

    The twin craft on this mission are CubeSats — tiny, inexpensive satellites that are easy to build and launch. Called Mars Cube One, or MarCO for short, they will fly past Mars as InSight lands, becoming the smallest spacecraft ever to be entrusted with a task as crucial as relaying landing information for a mission. Now nearing Mars, they are also already the first CubeSats to make it so far from Earth. If all goes well with InSight’s landing, future Mars missions could also be equipped with their own single-use comms team.

    “A future where landers and rovers brought their own communications systems for landing, that would be fantastic,” says engineer Joel Krajewski of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and MarCO’s program manager.

    InSight — short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — will carry the first seismometer to Mars (SN: 5/26/18, p. 13). After touching down in a wide, flat plain called Elysium Planitia near Mars’ equator, the lander will sit perfectly still to listen to seismic waves and measure how heat flows through the Red Planet’s interior. The results will help scientists understand how Mars, and perhaps other rocky planets like Earth, formed around 4.5 billion years ago.

    Marks the spot

    InSight will land in the flat, smooth plains of Elysium Planitia near the Martian equator. The spot provides relative calm, geologically speaking, and ample sunlight for powering the lander. The landing sites of previous Mars surface missions are shown as well.



    It will be only 6½ minutes between when InSight enters the Martian atmosphere, at a speed of nearly 1,000 meters per second, to the moment its legs touch the ground. The spacecraft will use a parachute and rockets aimed at the ground to slow to about 2.4 meters per second as it lands. Light-speed signals from the CubeSats or Insight itself will then take about eight minutes to travel between Earth and Mars, so by the time NASA engineers hear that InSight has entered Mars’ atmosphere, the spacecraft will be on the ground.

    “Which is terrifying,” says engineer Farah Alibay, also of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Whether it landed softly or pretty hard, we won’t know. But we’ll know when you get that first bit of data, InSight’s already landed.”

    We’re listening

    The MarCO CubeSats will watch InSight’s descent to the Martian surface (red line) and send details of the landing back to Earth, before continuing past the planet.


    For most previous Mars landings, one of the large orbiters currently circling the Red Planet had to pause its data-taking to watch the event and send details to Earth. The orbiter that will be in the best position to watch InSight will be NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

    NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

    While that spacecraft will observe the landing, it won’t be able to relay any details to Earth for at least three hours as its orbit takes the craft behind Mars from Earth’s point of view, blocking communications.

    “Three to four hours is not long for most people, but it’s pretty long for us,” Alibay says. “Landing is the scariest part of your mission.” Waiting to hear about the spacecraft’s landing is like waiting for news about a loved one’s health, she says.

    To avoid that waiting, the team sent the twin CubeSats. The spacecraft launched with InSight, but have been navigating through deep space on their own since May. The MarCO craft can change their trajectories by expelling compressed cold gas, similar to the way a fire extinguisher works — which earned them the nicknames Wall-E and Eve among the team, after the space-flying Disney robot characters. “We’ve demonstrated that a CubeSat can leave Earth orbit, survive the harsh environment of space and direct itself towards Mars,” Alibay says.

    About five minutes before InSight hits the top of the Martian atmosphere, the two MarCO craft will position themselves to track the lander all the way to the ground, and send details back to Earth immediately. Each operates independently, backing each other up.

    If all goes well, MarCO could set a precedent for future Mars missions. Existing Mars orbiters will be able to support two Mars missions launching in 2020 — NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and the ExoMars rover run by the European Space Agency and Russia’s space agency. But after that, the future is dim.

    NASA Mars Rover 2020 NASA

    ESA Exomars 2020

    “Right now, there’s not an active plan for an orbiter beyond that time frame,” Krajewski says. Plus, existing orbiters have to burn fuel to get into the right position to watch other spacecraft land, which shortens the orbiters’ lives. Sending future spacecraft with their own CubeSat comms team could help scientists monitor landings without compromising the big orbiters’ science missions.

    After InSight lands, MarCO’s job will be done. The tiny craft don’t have enough fuel or the right equipment to enter a long-term orbit around Mars. Instead, MarCO will “wave goodbye and continue along,” Krajewski says.

    You can watch InSight’s landing online on NASA TV.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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