ISLAMABAD: U.S. space agency NASA said that its next Mars landing mission in 2016 will include two CubeSats, the first time such tiny satellites have been deployed in deep space.
Known as Mars Cube One, or MarCO, the CubeSats will fly by Mars while insight, NASA’s next Mars lander, descends to the Martian surface in September 2016, NASA said.
“If this flyby demonstration is successful, the technology will provide NASA the ability to quickly transmit status information about the main spacecraft after it lands on Mars,” the space agency said in a statement, NBC News reported.
The basic CubeSat unit is a box roughly 4 inches (10 centimetres) square, but the MarCO’s design is a six-unit Cube Sat, with a stowed size of about 14.4 inches (36.6 centimetres) by 9.5 inches (24.3 centimetres) by 4.6 inches (11.8 centimetres).
The Insight Lander and MarCO CubeSats will be launched by an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, in March 2016. After launch, the two CubeSats will separate from the Atlas V booster and travel along their own trajectories to the Red Planet.
“MarCO is an experimental capability that has been added to the insight mission, but is not needed for mission success,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division. “MarCO will fly independently to Mars.”