NASA’s MarCO-B spacecraft — one of two CubeSats accompanying the space agency’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander — used a fisheye camera to snap its first photo on May 9, 2018.
The Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats — MarCO-A and MarCO-B — were launched on May 5 along with the InSight lander, a spacecraft that will touch down on Mars and study the planet’s deep interior for the first time.
InSight will attempt to land on Mars on November 26.
The MarCOs are the first CubeSats ever sent to deep space.
Most never go beyond Earth orbit; they generally stay below 497 miles (800 km) above the planet.
Though 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.
“Mars landings are notoriously challenging due to the planet’s thin atmosphere,” NASA researchers explained.
“The MarCO CubeSats will follow along behind InSight during its cruise to Mars.”
“Should they make it all the way to Mars, they will radio back data about InSight while it enters the atmosphere and descends to the planet’s surface.”
“InSight won’t rely on the MarCO mission for data relayl that job will fall to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.”
“But the MarCOs could be a pathfinder so that future missions can ‘bring their own relay’ to Mars.”
“They could also demonstrate a number of experimental technologies, including their antennas, radios and propulsion systems, which will allow CubeSats to collect science in the future.”