NASA’s latest mission, Mars InSight landed on the red planet successfully on 27 November 2018.
Mission control at California’s jet propulsion lab received confirmation of the lander’s status on a large plain, christened the Elysium Planitia at 19:53 GMT.
The rise of the Cubesat
InSight also set another first for a NASA mission - Through the aid of two ‘Cubesat’ satellites, devices that are roughly the size of a suitcase. While there is no shortage of tiny satellite active in low orbit currently around our planet and you can even apply to build your own and get it launched into orbit!
Until now these smaller satellites had not been used in a deep space mission, so their inclusion on the InSight mission was a test of their viability. Although their presence wasn’t necessary for the mission’s success the Cubesats, dubbed MarCO 1 and 2, relayed information and diagnostics from InSight during it’s descent that otherwise wouldn’t have been available for hours.
The tiny satellites acted as midpoint for InSight and the already present Mars reconnaissance orbiter. The orbiter has been in operation since 2005, and lacks the technology to simultaneously receive information and also send it through radio waves - So without the satellites presence, it would’ve taken hours for the data to reach Earth whereas with the Cubesats it took minutes.
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