NASAs first deep space mini spacecraft go silent

MarCO-B one of the experimental Mars Cube One CubeSats took these images as it approached Mars

MarCO-B one of the experimental Mars Cube One CubeSats took these images as it approached Mars

The MarCO CubeSats that were launched previous year have been unable to communicate with NASA.

The twin cubesats that played a key role in NASA's most recent Mars lander mission have been out of contact with the Earth for more than a month, suggesting their trailblazing mission has come to an end.

During InSight's entry, descent and landing on November 26, the MarCO satellites received and transmitted communication from the lander to let NASA know that InSight was safely on the surface of the Red Planet.

In any case, the NASA team considers MarCO a "spectacular success" since they have shown that such small (the size of a briefcase) and relatively cheap (around $18.5 million per mission) satellites can operate in deep space.

The craft are known as Mars Cube One (MarCO). Despite losing contact with the two spacecraft, NASA still considers the mission a complete success as they could still talk to them despite being so deep in space.

NASA launched a pair of spacecraft that were very small, about the size of a briefcase, known collectively as MarCO previous year.

There's a slim chance that when WALL-E and EVE's orbits bring them closer to the sun, they'll power back on and send a bit more information. Nicknamed "EVE" and "WALL-E" it is thought the spacecraft are now millions of miles beyond Mars. NASA estimated that Wall-E is more than a million miles (1.6 million kilometres) past Mars, and Eve is further away at nearly two million miles (3.2 kilometres).

Nasa has several theories about why it has lost contact with the pair - none of which involve the interference of aliens. CubeSats are scalable, however-WALL-E and EVE each contained 6 cube units.

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.

The brightness sensors that allow the CubeSats to stay pointed at the Sun and recharge their batteries could be another factor.

The farther they are, the more precisely they need to point their antennas to communicate with Earth.

In any event, the mini satellites will remain in an elongated orbit around the sun. It's unknown if the batteries or any other components will last that long, however.

Collectively known as MarCO, the pair launched a year ago and were purely a speculative mission to see if they were able to operate in deep space.

"This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us", said in a statement Andy Klesh, the mission's chief engineer at JPL.

"We've put a stake in the ground", he said. "Future CubeSats might go even farther", Klesh added. JPL said they still have a number of the critical spare parts that can be used to build more CubeSats. That includes their experimental radios, antennas and propulsion systems.

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