Monday , October 3 2022

Tiny satellites will be on Earth with the landing of InSight's Mars


The next spacecraft landing on Mars brings its own communications team. InSight, an aircraft scheduled to reach the Red Planet on November 26th, is accompanied by a pair of briefcase-sized spacecraft that will send landing details to Earth almost in real time.

The twin ship in this mission is CubeSats – tiny, economical satellites that are easy to build and launch. Named Mars Cube One, or Marco for short, will fly over Mars as Land InSight, making it the smallest spacecraft ever assigned with a task as critical as landing information for a mission. Now that they are approaching Mars, they are already the first CubeSats to get so far off Earth. If everything goes well with the landing of InSight, Mars' future missions could also be equipped with their own disposable communications team.

"A future in which pilots and routers bring their own landing communications systems would be fantastic," says engineer Joel Krajewski of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and Marco's program manager.

InSight – short for Inland Exploration using seismic surveys, geodesy and thermal transport – will bring the first earthquake on MarsSN: 5/26/18, p. 13). After touching a wide flat plain called Elysium Planitia near Mars equator, the landing will sit completely motionless to hear seismic waves and measure how the heat flows through the interior of the Red Planet. The results will help scientists understand how Mars, and perhaps other rocky planets like Earth, formed about 4.5 billion years ago.

It will be only 6½ minutes between the entrance of InSight in the Mars atmosphere, at a speed of almost 1,000 meters per second, until the feet touch the ground. The spacecraft will use a parachute and target rockets to slow down to about 2.4 meters per second on landing. Lightning signals from CubeSats or Insight itself will take about eight minutes to travel between Earth and Mars, so when NASA engineers hear InSight entering Mars, the spacecraft will be on the ground.

"That's terrifying," says engineer Farah Alibay, also of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Whether landing soft or hard enough, we will not know it. But we will know when you get this first data, InSight has already landed."

We hear

Marco CubeSats will follow the direction of InSight on Mars surface (red line) and will send details of the landing on Earth before it goes beyond the planet.

For most of Mars's previous landings, one of the great creeks currently circulating in the Red Planet was forced to stop receiving data to track the event and send details to Earth. The sun that is best placed to watch InSight will be NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. While this spacecraft will observe the landing, it will not be able to relay any data to Earth for at least three hours as its orbit takes the ship behind Mars from the earth, blocking communications.

"Three to four hours are not long for most people, but it's too long for us," says Alibay. "Landing is the most scary part of your mission." Waiting for us to hear the landing of the spacecraft is like waiting for the health of a loved one, he says.

To avoid this wait, the team sent twins CubeSats. The spacecraft started with InSight, but started its own space in May. The Marco can change their tracks by removing compressed cool gas, similar to the way a fire extinguisher works – who won the Wall-E and Eve aliases between the groups after Disney space giants. "We have proven that a CubeSat can abandon Earth's trajectory, survive the harsh environment of space and head to Mars," says Alibay.

About five minutes before InSight reaches the summit of Mars, the two Marco boats will be positioned to locate the Lander to the ground and send details immediately to Earth. Each one works independently, supporting each other up.

If everything goes well, Marco could set a precedent for Mars' future missions. Existing Mars Covers will be able to support two Mars missions to be launched in 2020 – NASA's Mars 2020 router and the ExoMars router run by the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency. But after that, the future is faint.

"There is currently no active plan for a speaker beyond this timeframe," says Krajewski. In addition, existing Orbiters have to burn fuel to get to the right place to watch other spacecraft, which reduces the life of the orchestras. The mission of the future spacecraft with its CubeSat communication team could help scientists monitor landings without jeopardizing the missions of the major orchestras.

After Land InSight, Marco's work will be done. Tiny boats do not have enough fuel or the right equipment to enter a long orbit around Mars. Instead, Marco will "bid farewell and will continue," says Krajewski.

You can watch online the InSight landing on NASA TV.

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