back to article CubeSat buddies, like those sent to track Mars InSight landing, can be used in future missions

Landing a spacecraft on Mars is nerve racking and prone to failure, as you can quite well imagine. But fear not, NASA was able to monitor the whole process for the InSight spacecraft thanks to two briefcase-sized CubeSats. Nicknamed WALL-E and EVE after the two main characters in that popular Pixar film, the little satellites …

  1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge
    Pint

    I can remember when I'd have killed someone to get 8 KBps. Now get off my lawn!

    Good job all around JPL and NASA!

  2. fedoraman

    Lifetimes?

    For how long are the cubesats expected to function? Cannot find any more mention of the things.

    1. 0laf Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Lifetimes?

      They'e done already. They weren't orbiters they are just doing a Mars flyby to test that the tech can survive the journey and to aid relaying telemetry when the lander was on it's journey down.

      https://www.space.com/42538-mars-insight-marco-cubesats-between-planets.html

      Again pints and shot for those steely-eyed rocket men (and women) at NASA for landing yet another critter on Mars.

      1. TVU Silver badge

        Re: Lifetimes?

        "They'e done already. They weren't orbiters they are just doing a Mars flyby to test that the tech can survive the journey and to aid relaying telemetry when the lander was on it's journey down"

        Actually, it would be a very good idea to deploy some of those relatively cheap cubesats in Mars orbit to serve as a full time communication relay since the assorted orbiters that currently fulfil that task are getting long in the tooth and they won't last forever.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Lifetimes?

          "it would be a very good idea to deploy some of those relatively cheap cubesats in Mars orbit"

          It would indeed, but first you have to get funding, and to get funding you need to prove to the politicians and higher-ups that the idea will work, and you prove that by sticking a couple on a mission that's already funded and having them relay data.

          So NASA have just managed the first step (proving it works), so hopefully we'll see more smallsats on future missions.

          1. 0laf Silver badge

            Re: Lifetimes?

            Indeed these little critters were just a proof of concept. Indeed they exceeded their remit since they weren't really needed to relay the data, that was an added bonus.Surviving the journey was the main objective for them.

            It will be more likely now that future missions will include micro sats to perform relaying duties for larger probes. And some of them will be orbiters I'm sure.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Lifetimes?

        "They'e done already. They weren't orbiters they are just doing a Mars flyby to test that the tech can survive the journey and to aid relaying telemetry when the lander was on it's journey down."

        Yes, they didn't have the engines or fuel to slow down into an orbit. They were separated from the lander portion pretty much straight after lift-off and went to Mars independently. They'd have needed to be in a significantly different trajectory to arrive at Mars in a way to get into an orbit, ie moving more slowly, and would then have got there too late to have been of any use.

  3. Wellyboot Silver badge

    First attempt - Brilliant results

    Now the cubes work we should find out how long they last.

    One of the five Mars 2020 missions (3 orbiters, 2 landers, 3 rovers & a helicopter!) should be able to piggyback a pair along for orbital insertion as a spare relay.

    1. Christoph Silver badge

      Re: First attempt - Brilliant results

      Do they have solar panels? Or did they run on battery power for the short time needed?

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: First attempt - Brilliant results

        @Christopher -> Panels

        wiki has pics

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Cube_One

      2. Shadow Systems Silver badge

        Re: First attempt - Brilliant results

        At Christoph, re: power source.

        I vote we pack each satelite with a telephone handset sanitizer on a peddle powered generator, make them peddle so the generator produces oxygen, with a byproduct being the power for the relay laser links & such. If they stop peddlin' the sat stops talkin' & we send up another one to replace the dead one. They're cheap as chips, entirely expendable, & nobody cares if we lose 'em by the hundreds... and that goes for the satelites too! =-D

        *Cough*

  4. iron Silver badge

    "softball-shaped X band radio"

    And what shape would that be to non-Yanks?

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      And what shape would that be to non-Yanks?

      Same shape as a rounders ball..

      1. Symon Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Indeed, shouldn't it be 'softball sized'? The planet Mars is softball shaped.

        1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

          Given

          these "cube"sats are in fact rectangular I wouldn't be surprised to discover that softball is in fact wombat poo shaped.

  5. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    Cube sats? We need cube wolves!

    Neat little critters, but this and the description of InSight's silver hammer got me thinking about volume restrictions. So we're getting rockets that can lift heavier payloads, but not always to a point where they can be slung at Mars. So that limits the size and mass of things that can be flung in that general direction, like Rickovers*. So then pondering how cube-sat ideas could be extended to creating modular, self-assembling bigger things that won't fit into a single payload fairing.

    And what could possibly go wrong? :)

    *I've been re-reading the Mars trilogy to get a sense of how that's dated given results from missions since that was written. Technology's moved on, but I think a lot of the socio-economic challenges are still very much there. Big one being the cost of lifting stuff out of our gravity well.

  6. ma1010 Silver badge
    Joke

    Earth

    ...or Earth might not be an ideal spot.

    A commonly held opinion among the other residents of the Western Spiral Arm, and probably true. But at least it's mostly harmless.

  7. david 12 Bronze badge

    postitioning fuel

    Long-term devices have some means of adjusting the orbit and orientation. Sending up these pebbles would have been a lot more difficult and expensive if they had been able to remain in position.

  8. Black Betty

    Comsats for space missions.

    Here's a thought. Devote at least one mission to nothing but establishing a permanent high bandwidth communications link between Mars and Earth. It's something that will be an absolute necessity if we ever do get around to sending manned mission, and in the meantime science orbiters and landers can work 24:37 without the need to take time out to laboriously transmit data back to earth at rates that would embarrass your average US telco.

    With a near real-time link (latency 3 - 22 minutes) the possibility to react to and observe transient events would be greatly enhanced. Rover travel distances could be increased to kilometers per day. Without a need for a large antena and complex pointing system more space could be devoted to extra or more complex science packages.

    In situ satellites would also make terminal guidance of approaching missions easier.

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