NASA has announced that when it launches a stationary lander next year as part of its Mars effort, it will include a pair of CubeSats. This will mark the first time CubeSats have been flown into deep space, says the space agency, and a success will demonstrate that the technology is able to rapidly transmit data about the status of the primary spacecraft destined for Mars. The CubeSats were both built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and will fly independent of the InSight lander, which will land on Mars next September.
The mission to demonstrate the CubeSats technology is being referred to as Mars Cube One, MarCO for short. The MarCO CubeSats, says NASA, will each be about the size of a briefcase and will be launching in March 2016.
The MarCO devices will be launched using the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, the same one that will be used to launch the InSight lander. The lander, says the space agency, is its first mission to examine Mars’ “interior structure”. As the lander makes it landing, the MarCO CubeSats will be doing their Mars flyby.
If the CubeSats don’t prove successful, it will not impact the success of the main (InSight) mission. That makes this more of a mini-mission, one to demonstrate the technology for future missions more so than anything else. The first part of a successful MarCO mission will involve the CubeSats deploying pair of solar panels and radio antennae. Overall success will help NASA determine future communication methods for Mars missions.