NASA’s Atlas V rocket launched from California Saturday morning, headed for Mars with the Mars InSight lander. It’s mission is to study the interior of the red planet as well as ‘Marsquakes’. The rocket had a couple of stowaways on board when it launched. Two small satellites named WALL-E and EVE ejected from the rocket after it lifted off and are now following the lander to Mars.
These CubeSats are the size of a briefcase and weigh in around 30 pounds. Miniature satellites have been hitching rides into space for years. This inexpensive way to put the satellites into space has mostly been confined to Earth’s orbit. With NASA’s Mars Cube One project (MarCO), however, these CubeSats have been able to set their sights on further distances such as the moon.
In the movie WALL-E, the curious robot uses a fire extinguisher outside of the space ship to propel himself through space. The two twin cubes are equipped with the same type of propulsion. Given this characteristic to the Pixar movie, scientists couldn’t help but name the two CubeSats WALL-E and EVE.
To prevent any collisions, the two will travel thousands of miles apart from each other behind the lander. While InSight is scheduled to land on Mars on November 26th, 2018, WALL-E and EVE have different missions. They will soar past the red planet at a distance of 2,200 miles. The goal is to see if these CubeSats can transmit data to Earth. It it’s successful, flight controllers will hear transmission data in a matter of minutes. This of course, is the backup. If it fails, there is still the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that is already in orbit around Mars. The transmission is slower but is the main communication link with InSight.
After their mission, WALL-E and EVE will continue to orbit around the sun for years. They do have a limited fuel supply and will not be operation for long.
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