NASA’s Mars exploration: InSight and MarCO #53

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What is CubeSat? List the major Mars exploration missions.

Syllabus: GS-3 –> S & T

Why in News?

  • On 26thNov, 2018, NASA’s InSight mission landed on Mars.


  • On May 5, 2018, NASA launched a stationary lander called InSight to Mars.
  • Riding along with InSight were two CubeSats — the first of this kind of spacecraft to fly to deep space.
  • The twin communications-relay CubeSats, built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, constitute a technology demonstration called Mars Cube One (MarCO).

What are CubeSat?

  • CubeSat (U-class spacecraft) is a type of miniaturized satellite for space research that is made up of multiples of 10×10×10 cm cubic units. CubeSatshave a mass of no more than 1.33 kilograms per unit, and often use commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components for their electronics and structure.

About MarCO’s performance:

  • Mars Cube One (or MarCO) is a Mars flyby mission consisting of two nanospacecraft, of the 6U CubeSat format, that was launched on 5 May 2018 alongside NASA’s InSight Mars lander mission.
  • Mars Cube One was test of new miniaturized communications and navigation technologies.
  • They were able to provide a real-time communications link to Earth for InSight during its entry, descent, and landing (EDL) on 26 November 2018, when InSight was out of line of sight from the Earth.
  • Mars Cube One is the first CubeSat designed to operate beyond Earth orbit; asides from telecommunications, they also tested CubeSats’ endurance in deep space.
  • The InSight lander retransmited its telemetry data soon after landing. Therefore MarCO was not critical for the InSight mission, but rather demonstrated the new relay system and technology for future use in missions to other Solar System bodies which shall not have a relay orbiter deployed.

Other Mars exploration mission:

  • NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN): space probe orbiting Mars.
  • NASA’s Curiosity rover to study cater on Mars.
  • ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan is a space probe orbiting Mars.

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