NASA Plans to Fly Helicopter on Mars

Tiny NASA satellite bound for Mars snaps photo of Earth from thousands of miles away

He is, of course, referring to the famous pale blue dot photo taken by the Voyager spacecraft in 1990 at the request of scientist Carl Sagan.

The "Wall-E" CubeSat took a "pale blue dot image" of Earth and the moon from more than 600 thousand miles away.

Last week, the MarCO-B spacecraft (also known as Wall-E) snapped a picture with its wide-field color camera to check the deployment of its high-gain antenna.

The two CubeSats, known together as Mars Cube One (MarCO-A and MarCO-B), are the first of their kind to venture into deep space. Then Wall-E turned back and grabbed the first-ever CubeSat pale blue dot image: an image of the Earth and moon.

"Consider it our homage to Voyager", said JPL's Andy Klesh in a news release.

The first image captured by one of NASA's Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats.

"CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone", Klesh pointed out.

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MarCO's softball-size radio provides both UHF (receive only) and X-band (receive and transmit) functions capable of immediately relaying information received over UHF.

An artist's rendition of the two Mars-bound cubesats flying through space.

They were originally developed to teach university students about satellites, CubeSats are now a major commercial technology, providing data on everything from shipping routes to environmental changes.

"Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future", added associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen.

MarCO will travel behind InSight on the way to Mars, and will monitor the lander's transmissions as it sets down in November. The twin, counter-rotating blades will spin at nearly 3,000 revolutions per minute, or 10 times faster than the rate of a helicopter on Earth.

The MarCOs will pass by Mars at the same time that Insight is making its landing, and depending on how things go, they may even be able to pass on a little useful info to mission control while it happens. According to NASA, these antennas are crucial to the MarCO mission and will serve to relay data on the InSight lander's entry in the Martian atmosphere. The high-gain antennas are key to that effort; the MarCO team have early confirmation that the antennas have successfully deployed, but will continue to test them in the weeks ahead. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will be communicating with InSight as well in case MarCO doesn't work out. Nevertheless, the main mission for the two satellites is to follow the InSight Mars mission to the Red Planet and in that way, demonstrate the suitability of small spacecraft traveling toward deep space.

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