“Pale Blue Dot” imaged by MarCO CubeSat
Reminiscent of the famous Voyager 1 “Pale Blue Dot” photo, an image returned by one of NASA’s Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats on May 9, 2018, shows a distant Earth and Moon as it speeds off toward the Red Planet.
Launched with the InSight lander on May 5, MarCO is the first attempt to send CubeSats into deep space and they will be utilized to help relay data transmitted from the InSight spacecraft during its Mars landing attempt on Nov. 26, 2018. The CubeSats, MarCO-A and MarCO-B, are each is equipped with a high-gain antenna to relay data between InSight and Earth. They are nicknamed “Eva” and “Wall-E” after the two characters in the Disney movie “Wall-E.”
MarCO-B is equipped with a fish-eye camera that was used on May 9 to confirm the deployment of the high-gain antenna. In the process, it captured a view of Earth and the Moon in its rear view as the trio of spacecraft made their way into deep space. The image came one day after both of the micro-satellites set a CubeSat distance record of 621,371 miles (1 million kilometers).
In addition to data relay during the entry, descent, and landing of InSight, the two CubeSats also demonstrating a host of other deep-space technologies for small satellites, including their antennas and propulsion systems. Later this month, the twin spacecraft will be the first CubeSats to attempt a trajectory correction maneuver to refine their course toward Mars. If successful, it could lay the groundwork for more advanced CubeSat missions in the future.
Paul is currently a graduate student in Space and Planetary Sciences at the University of Akransas in Fayetteville. He grew up in the Kansas City area and developed an interest in space at a young age at the start of the twin Mars Exploration Rover missions in 2003. He began his studies in aerospace engineering before switching over to geology at Wichita State University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 2013. After working as an environmental geologist for a civil engineering firm, he began his graduate studies in 2016 and is actively working towards a PhD that will focus on the surficial processes of Mars. He also participated in a 2-week simluation at The Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in 2014 and remains involved in analogue mission studies today. Paul has been interested in science outreach and communication over the years which in the past included maintaining a personal blog on space exploration from high school through his undergraduate career and in recent years he has given talks at schools and other organizations over the topics of geology and space. He is excited to bring his experience as a geologist and scientist to the Spaceflight Insider team writing primarily on space science topics.