Small satellites are the way to Mars likely to be first of many

An artist is a representation of the small twin MarCO spaceship on way to Mars.


Two small explorers at the limits of their kind, but if scientists have their way, the two adventurers will soon have plenty of company.

The few small satellites, the so-called Marching-cubes (MarCO-and MarCO-B), launched in May, together with the Mars Insight lander. All three spacecraft are on their way to the Red Planet, which they reach in the end of November.

On Nov. 26, Insight will carefully negotiate the challenges of landing on Mars, and the MarCOs will look into it, the record of landing for the engineers back home to learn more about the always challenging process. The small mechanical assistants will also act as a redundant communication relay system, sending signals to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter transmitted to Earth, to see if NASA could focus exclusively on small satellites for that job in the future.

But in the long term, scientists have much larger dreams for this class of small satellites, which are about the size of a loaf of bread, and sports and also small price tags for the aerospace industry.

More Of

  • Mark A and Mark B

  • Mars Insight lander

“Our hope is that MarCO could help democratize deep in the space,” Jakob Van Zyl, director of the Solar System Exploration Directorate at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said in a press release. “The technology is cheap enough that you could imagine countries, entering the room who are not players in the past. Even universities can do this.”

NASA has enthusiastically supported small satellites in general, and has sought out commercial proposals for their use. And the team behind the MarCOs hopes that their work will provide shortcuts to future engineers looking to small satellites outside the orbit of the Earth.

“Almost all of the features of MarCO is adapted for use on future spacecraft,” John Baker, the program manager is responsible for the small spacecraft at JPL, said in the release.

And that is, in essence, what the MarCO satellites were designed to do: The couple is a proof of concept and a hole shot now is anyone’s guess what would come next.

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