NASA’s CubeSats – Dreaming Big with less

Most of the NASA’s satellites like the Cassini, Galileo or the Voyagers 1 and 2 are big ones that measured to the of a school bus. But in the last few years, the engineers of NASA have been developing mini-satellites (CubeSats). These CubeSats are roughly the size of a briefcase and are focused on their abilities. The building cost, as well as mass, are very less when compared to its past predecessors.

The month of May will mark the launch of the 1st pair of CubeSats by NASA which is designed for the purpose of deep space. These CubeSats are built in California at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA and are named as MarCO or Mars Cube One. Both these spacecraft will be carried by the InSight, which is the next lander headed towards the Red Planet. The twin satellites will follow the InSight through space and will relay data about insight with the help of high-gain antennas, as the lander enters the Martian atmosphere.

The MarCOs does not have any science-related mission of their own and nor are required for communication by the InSight. These twins will be a jump in the technology of CubeSat far from Earth orbit and will show this technology can be exploited to further venture out the solar system.

There are doubts that these CubeSats will survive the deep space intense radiation at all. Both the twins will be using compressed gas to push themselves forward in space. If the twins survive the journey, a new method of communication relay will be tested by them that will function a “black box” for the future landings on Mars. This could help researchers to understand the process as well as difficulties encountered on landing on the Red Planet. Mars landing is very hard to make, and these new observations could help in the future. Moreover, this mission will be a proof that the CubeSats is capable of going beyond the Earth.

CubeSats are widely used on Earth to teach students about satellites and to provide data in a variety of areas from environmental changes to shipping routes. The MarCOs are developed by the JPL, which also manages the same as well as the InSight for NASA. The mission is funded both by JPL and the Science Mission Directorate of NASA. A lot of unique technologies are provided for the MarCOs from various commercial suppliers who support development.