NASA launched a pair of spacecraft that were very small, about the size of a briefcase, known collectively as MarCO last year. NASA knew when the spacecraft launched that they would be pushing the limits by merely operating in deep space, and their success was measured in survival. The MarCo (short for Mars Cube One) mission was the first interplanetary mission to use small CubeSats.
The pair of spacecraft were named EVE and Wall-E after characters from the popular Pixar film. MarCO launched to Mars behind the InSight mission and were intended to act as relays for data during each stage of the InSight landing process in near-real time, that mission was a success. One of the biggest features of the MarCO spacecraft is that they were much cheaper than most space missions costing $18.5 million. NASA now says that theMarCO spacecraft have stopped communicating and it is assumed we will never hear from EVE or Wall-E again.
The last communication from Wall-E was received on December 29 with EVE’s last communication received on January 4. Trajectory data suggests that Wall-E is more than 1 million miles past Mars with EVE being nearly 2 million miles past Mars. As for why communications stopped, NASA has a few ideas.
Wall-E had a leaky thruster, and attitude control issues could be causing it to wobble and lose the ability to send and receive commands. Another possible issue would be some sort of failure with the brightness sensors that allow the spacecraft to point towards the sun to recharge.
NASA has another chance to communicate with the MarCO spacecraft this summer when the duo starts to get closer to the sun and the potential to gather power for battery charging grows. Even if NASA never hears from EVE or Wall-E again, they consider the MarCO mission a success.