Before the pair of briefcase-sized spacecraft known collectively as MarCO launched past year, their success was measured by survival: If they were able to operate in deep space at all, they would be pushing the limits of experimental technology.
The twin cubesats that played a key role in NASA's most recent Mars lander mission have been out of contact with the Earth for more than a month, suggesting their trailblazing mission has come to an end. Despite losing contact with the two spacecraft, NASA still considers the mission a complete success as they could still talk to them despite being so deep in space. At this time, the mission team considers it unlikely they'll 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.
Placed into an elliptical solar orbit, both CubeSats, whose $18.5-million cost was funded by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, are now well past Mars.
The MarCO spacecraft were 6U cubesats launched in May 2018 as secondary payloads on the Atlas 5 that sent the InSight mission to Mars.
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Nasa has several theories about why it has lost contact with the pair - none of which involve the interference of aliens.
NASA said that based on trajectory calculations, WALL-E is more than 1 million miles past Mars, while EVE is nearly 2 million miles past the Red Planet. The satellites have sensors to point them toward the sun and recharge.
"WALL-E sent some great postcards from Mars!" said Cody Colley of JPL, MarCO's mission manager. The team will reattempt to contact the CubeSats at that time, though whether their batteries and other parts will last that long cannot be predicted. WALL-E has a leaky thruster.
Radio antennas: Like Earth, Mars wobbles a little as it rotates around its axis.
"We've put a stake in the ground", he said. Several of these systems were provided by commercial vendors, making it easier for other CubeSats to use them as well.
More small spacecraft are on the way. Inside the dome, the seismometer is also contained in a titanium, vacuum-sealed container, the combination of which helps insulate the instrument even further from environmental hazards. NASA is set to launch a variety of new CubeSats in coming years.
"There's big potential in these small packages", John Baker, the MarCO program manager at JPL said. The satellites have not communicated with the government space agency for more than a month, NASA said on Tuesday.