back to article Pixaaaarrrrrrghh! Mars-snapping CubeSats Wall-E and Eve declared dead (for now) by NASA bods

NASA has said goodnight to its two experimental CubeSats, sent into space to monitor America's InSight probe as it landed on Mars, after failing to communicate with the gizmo duo since January. Scientists relied on the mini machines, affectionately named Wall-E and Eve after the robots in the Pixar film WALL-E, to relay …

  1. redpawn Silver badge

    Was it the Pixar image

    of being too wretchedly cute which caused them to quit? Are they plotting robotic revenge such as redirecting asteroids in our direction with their remaining fuel to get back at us?

  2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
    Alien

    Ohhh shit!

    Probably will crash, found & worshiped as Monoliths by primitive life forms, as representatives of a higher intelligence.

    1. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Ohhh shit!

      Yeah, we are still recovering from that space probe shaped like a crucifix that landed here several thousand years ago ...

  3. farawayfromhome

    They did their intended job

    We have gotten too used to the fact that many probes survive past their predicted mission lifetime.

    These were "el cheapo" test probes, that's why two of them were sent out.

    The fact that both of them survived all the way to Mars was not the expected outcome.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: They did their intended job

      They did not get released until the lander did, iow they all packaged up with the lander. Not even NASA is up to firing naked cubesats at probe gobbling Mars all on their own.

      1. farawayfromhome

        Re: They did their intended job

        According to NASA data, they flew freely behind the probe all the way:

        "The two CubeSats are designed to separate from the Atlas V booster after InSight's launch, then travel along their own trajectories to the Red Planet. "

        https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/cubesat/missions/marco.php

        So they actually tested CubeSats with a very long planned lifespan for the first time. That's why they sent two.

  4. John Robson Silver badge

    I can’t help but think that debrisnon this scale is going to come back and bite us one day - wonder if/when they next encounter a planetary body...

    1. MrT

      Six wasps...

      The space between stuff in space is mind-boggling, but instead of just quoting Douglas Adams, or imagining it to be as littered to the point of obscuration as shown in other near-Earth orbit scenes from WALL.E, here's another mind-bending image...

      Sir James Hopwood Jeans, in his 1933 Christmas Lecture at the Royal Institute said this:

      "If we take six wasps and set them flying blindly about in a cage 1,000 miles long, 1,000 miles broad and 1,000 miles high, we shall ... have a model of the distances between the stars." If the wasps are stars, imagine firing a grain of sand through that 1000 mile cube - would one hit a wasp? On that scale, the grain of sand represents a small planet. Scale is, as they say, entirely relative.

      There are bigger bits of debris from over 4 billions years ago floating about, an none of them got hit by deep-spce probes. It would take an incredible amount of bad luck (or accurate targetting) for a future spacecraft to collide with these two cubesats, and any planetary body they encounter wouldn't notice the impact - they'd burn up in the atmosphere of any planet or moon with one.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Six wasps...

        "They couldn't hit an elephant a spacecraft at that dista......."

      2. Tim Soldiers

        Re: Six wasps...

        And yet Oumuamua !!

      3. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Six wasps...

        "The space between stuff in space is mind-boggling"

        Indeed it is, but we're quite likely to start doing this more often, and always targeting 'at or about' planetary orbits, so these will probably be moving with an aphelion somewhere at or beyond mars orbit and a perihelion at or about earth orbit - and on a well aligned plane.

        Given that we will always want to be launching for an efficient transfer, and could start launching alot more than a couple of these things... the density will always be miniscule, but something to either make them *really easy* to identify (passive reflectors) or plotting their course to include either aero- or litho- braking at some defined point beyond their mission doesn't seem completely impossible.

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      At just 600 cubic inches I think it's highly unlikely that they will do anything but burn up in the planet's atmosphere, even one as thin as that of Mars.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        highly unlikely

        I heard that they said the chances of anything getting to Mars were a million to one.

    3. Christoph Silver badge

      Or they might get run over by a passing car.

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Only

        if they happen to be painted red with the word fire painted on the red in back-to-front letters.

    4. phuzz Silver badge
      Boffin

      "wonder if/when they next encounter a planetary body"

      Given their orbit, the only planet they're likely to encounter in the next few thousand years is likely to be Mars, and when they do they'll burn up leaving nothing more than a tiny bit of soot.

      Still, you seem to be worried, so lets do some maths:

      Obviously we can't measure the size of all of space, but then we're only really interested in the bit around us, so lets imagine the disk of the solar system, out to Mars orbit, and because most stuff orbits in the same plane, we can imagine it as a disc only as thick as the Earth (12x10^6m).

      So, radius of Mars orbit (ish, it's really an ellipse) is 228 million km, or 228x10^9m

      The area of our disc would then be 1.63x10^23 m^2, and the total volume would be 3.7x10^31 cubic metres (that's 37000000000000000000000000000000 cubic metres, more or less).

      If we assume that each one of these cube sats is one cubic metre (they're smaller than that, but it's close enough), I hope you can see that 1 into 3.7x10^31 is a tiny, tiny fraction. And this isn't even the whole solar system, it's just a thin slice of the area out as far as Mars.

      Space really is quite large.

      1. timbo2001

        Spacious

        Yes indeed. there really is a lot of space in space...

      2. phuzz Silver badge

        Damint, I've just remembered that I can do superscript, so I didn't need all those ^ marks :(

        (it's sup fyi)

      3. John Robson Silver badge

        "Still, you seem to be worried,"

        I'm not worried, I was just wondering...

        In the same way we once thought the oceans to be infinite in their capacity to deal with whatever we threw at them - at some point the amount of crap we leave lying around interplanetary shipping lanes might cause an issue.

  5. sitta_europea

    "NASA estimated that Wall-E is more than a million miles (1.6 million kilometres) past Mars, and Eve is further away at almost two million miles (3.2 kilometres)."

    Er, 3.2 MILLION kilometres please.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Or: 3.2Gigametres

      But a hard disk sales brochure would call that 3.44Gm and an ISP would call it "up to 4gM".

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Or: 3.2Gigametres

        How much is that in ångström?...

    2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      "NASA estimated that Wall-E is more than a million miles (1.6 million kilometres) past Mars, and Eve is further away at almost two million miles (3.2 kilometres)."

      Er, 3.2 MILLION kilometres please.

      NASA spokesperson Dougal Maguire explained "that cubesat is very small....the other cubesat is far away"

    3. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      million

      Oops, we accidentally out a word. It's fixed - don't forget to email corrections@theregister.com if you spot a problem, please.

      C.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: million

        "Oops, we accidentally out a word."

        Well played sir!

  6. Potemkine! Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    We learn from history that we do not learn from history

    After polluting the space around Earth, Humanity begins to pollute the space around the Sun... Aren't we smart?

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: We learn from history that we do not learn from history

      The space around the Sun is full of all kinds of débris, it's only the lack of adequate telescopes and the time it took us to move away from the ideas of Aristotle that cause most people not to realise that the Solar System is full of litter already.

      Once you get beyond the orbit of the Moon we really are not doing anything to increase the rubbish density.

      1. Big John Silver badge

        Re: We learn from history that we do not learn from history

        Were it not for Jupiter's huge influence on the inner system, that zone would be far more cluttered, we'd be getting hit quite often, and serious impactors would be common enough to possibly suppress higher life forms here on Earth.

        With Jupiter in place, any debris not in safe, non-resonant orbits tends to eventually collide with Jupiter or be ejected from the inner system entirely. And since the safe orbits are where the inner planets (and the asteroids) reside, even those locations are unstable for the debris (except for the asteroid belt, due to the lack of a major planet there).

        Thus it's pretty clean around here, other than recently created stuff caused by collisions, which can be considered a "background level" of junk that remains stable over time. Our recent additions to that junk level are pathetically small and it's going to take a much larger effort before we can call ourselves proper space polluters. Only in low earth orbit is our footprint even detectable, and that's the least stable place of all, due to atmospheric drag.

        1. Potemkine! Silver badge
          1. Big John Silver badge
            Angel

            Re: We learn from history that we do not learn from history

            > "But hey, let's do business as usual: let's continue to don't give a fuck about the consequences of our actions, this behavior works so well on Earth."

            Actually it does. Here on Earth, all microscopic bits of debris we create merely by operating machinery, walking around, and scratching our arses, is quickly absorbed into the environment and basically vanishes.

            Not so in orbit however! There, such tiny bits just float away, adding to the "junk" level and occasionally striking our space stations quite hard. These tiny bits make up the vast bulk of the current "space junk" around our planet. We didn't intend to put it there, it's just hard to prevent, regardless of any fucks we may give about it.

            Yes, let's try to clean up the larger pieces that got left up there, but criticizing our space exploration efforts as "bad" because of some paint flecks smacks of gratuitous whinging.

      2. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: We learn from history that we do not learn from history

        Why should we add junk to debris? In the 60s, nobody realized the consequences of letting junk floating around Earth, space was so immense after all and there were already a lot of debris, some of them hitting Earth every day.

        It seems to be the human way: Après nous, le déluge!

  7. Spherical Cow

    Briefcase

    It's amazing what you can fit in a briefcase these days, e.g.

    - a Mars probe

    - a nuclear weapon

    - two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers...

    1. Big John Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Briefcase

      To be fair, that last stuff was in the boot of a car, not a briefcase. Nice gonzo reference tho! :)

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