Beyond Mars, the Mini MarCO Spacecraft Fall Silent

NASA satellite MarCO-B took this image of Mars during its flyby of the Red Planet on Nov. 26 2018

NASA satellite MarCO-B took this image of Mars during its flyby of the Red Planet on Nov. 26 2018

"This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us", Andy Klesh, the mission's chief engineer at JPL, said.

MarCO-B, one of the experimental Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats, took these images as it approached Mars. The two probes were launched along with the InSight Mars lander and helped NASA watch its descent to the Red Planet.

But the missions demonstrated that CubeSats are a viable option for relaying data from deep space back to Earth, and future missions may bring their own communications relay to monitor touchdown. WALL-E had a leaky thruster, which could cause "wobbling".

Nasa has lost touch with the first mini-spacecraft that ventured into deep space, according to the USA space agency which said that it is unlikely the twin CubeSats will be heard from again.

WALL-E, which last communicated with Earth on December 29, is slightly more than one million miles (1.6 million kilometers) beyond the Red Planet while EVE, which last contacted Earth on January 4, is close to two million miles (3.2 million kilometers) past Mars. But their real mission was simply to show off their abilities so far from home and prove that such small missions - the total MarCO program only cost $18.5 million - could succeed in deep space. Nicknamed "EVE" and "WALL-E" it is thought the spacecraft are now millions of miles beyond Mars.

Scientists relied on the mini machines, affectionately named Wall-E and Eve after the robots in the Pixar film WALL-E, to relay information about the status of the InSight lander as it touched down on the Red Planet in November.

Nasa has several theories about why it has lost contact with the pair - none of which involve the interference of aliens.

They may have suffered malfunctions affecting the brightness sensors which point them towards the sun, allowing solar panels to recharge the crafts' batteries. They are in orbit around the sun and the farther they are, the more hard it would be to contact them. They are orbiting the sun and by that time, the two will come much closer to Earth.

NASA said that the pair will not begin moving toward the sun until this summer.

Even if they're never revived, the team considers MarCO a spectacular success.

However, Nasa admitted it's "anyone's guess whether their batteries and other parts will last that long".

The MarCO spacecraft were 6U cubesats launched in May 2018 as secondary payloads on the Atlas 5 that sent the InSight mission to Mars.

JPL spokesman Andrew Good said February 5 that after the flyby the MarCO cubesats continued to transmit technical data about the performance of their various subsystems, including attitude control, propulsion and communications. NASA is set to launch a variety of new CubeSats in coming years. Several of these systems were provided by commercial vendors, making it easier for other CubeSats to use them as well. "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".

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