NASA’s InSight lander is will carry two tiny CubeSats during its mission to Mars in 2016. Each CubeSat has a dimension of 14.4 x 9.4 x 4.6 inches, and is composed of six 4-inch cube satellites.
The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander is designed to carry two satellites called CubeSats also known as Mars Cube One (MarCO). CubeSats are cheaper when compared to other satellites, and is built out of commercial and off-the-shelf components. The two escorts will transported into space with the help of Atlas V rocket and two small-solar powered aircrafts.
“MarCO will fly independently to Mars,” said Jim Green, Director of NASA’s planetary science division in Washington.
The trio will be launched by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) from the Vanderberg Air Force Base in Californaia. The CubeSats will function as communications-relay satellite, and will orbit the planet while InSight will be deployed in Mars. InSight will transmit the details of the landing and descent details to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that will send it to the ground-based team.
The whole process is time-consuming, and the ground-based team will receive the details of the mission after an hour. The CubeSat will support InSight by transmitting details to the Earth-based team. NASA stated that his will the first ever deep space mission with miniature satellites. The space agency is also developing various variants of CubeSats for exploring other planets.
The InSight lander will land on Mars on September 2016, and MarCO would orbit around the red planet around the same time. NASA’s team will have to face the challenge of the perfect deployment of two solar panels and radio antennae. If the deployment is successful, it would lay the foundation for easier communications systems for future Mars missions.[ Source ]