One of the CubeSats that was part of NASA's InSight launch earlier this month got a chance to snap a photo of Earth and moon, an homage to the Voyager mission's Pale Blue Dot. The older probe took its iconic image from a distance of about 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers), whereas the two cubesats were about 620,000 miles (1 million km) from Earth on May 8, the day before MarCO-B snapped the newly released image, NASA officials said. "Both are CubeSats are healthy and functioning properly".
NASA says the two tiny spacecraft are not essential to InSight's success. The image, which shows both the CubeSat's unfolded high-gain antenna at right and the Earth and its moon in the center, was acquired by MarCO-B on May 9.
The MarCO spacecraft are the first CubeSats ever launched to deep space.
Started in August 2013 as a technology development project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Mars Helicopter weighs under four pounds and its fuselage is about the size of a tennis ball.
NASA shared the image on Tuesday.
In over five decades of robotic exploration, NASA has sent orbiters, landers, rovers and even Cubesats to Mars.
A tiny satellite on its way to Mars has opened its eyes and captured a view of home. Voyager 1 is now 13 billion miles away from Earth, travelling northward through space.
Giant radio telescopes on Earth will also listen for signals radioed directly from InSight in near real-time - accounting for a time delay due to the vast distance to Mars - but the ground-based antennas are expected to only verify the lander's "aliveness" during descent and touchdown. After getting separated, these followed the InSight Mars Lander to the Mars. The Iris radio is created to interface with NASA's Deep Space Network, a collection of antennas at three sites in California, Spain and Australia that connect with spacecraft traveling throughout the solar system. They're intended purely as a technology demonstration, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes. Instead of a conventional liquid fuel, like hydrazine, the CubeSats will change its trajectory with compressed R236FA gas, which is commonly used in fire extinguishers.
Artist's concept of the twin MarCO spacecraft - called Wall-E and Eva by spaceflight engineers - as they fly through deep space. Eight thrusters give the team options for each correction.
"After Wright Brothers proved 117 years ago that powered, sustained and controlled flight was possible here on Earth, another group of American pioneers may prove the same can be done on another world", added Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The mission is scheduled to take off on the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and reach Mars in February 2021. Also, to these, it also performs other specific tasks.