MarCO-B, one of the experimental Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats, took this image of Mars from about 4,700 miles away during its flyby last November. MarCO-B had been sent to Mars with its twin, MarCO-A, to serve as communications relays for NASA’s InSight spacecraft as it landed. The image includes a portion of the CubeSat’s high-gain, X-band antenna on the right. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
CubeSats are the anti-big ticket space missions.
They come as small as 4 inches squared and in units that size weigh about 3 pounds. They currently carry cameras, high gain antennas, radios and other scientific equipment, and because of their weight and size they can easily hitch a ride on a rocket sending a traditional large payload into orbit.
More than 900 CubeSats have been launched since they began in being deployed early this century, but only two have left low-Earth orbit.
Those two went to Mars last year along with the InSight lander (a deep geology mission) and despite some short-term but nerve-racking radio silence just before they were needed, they performed exactly as planned.
In the process they both heightened the profile and the desirability of CubeSats as a growing addition to space ...