NASA's MarCO CubeSats, the first-of-its-kind, briefcase-sized spacecraft to travel into deep space, successfully relayed information from newest robotic resident on Mars -- the Insight lander -- paving the way for the launch of more tiny planetary probes in future. The twin communications-relay CubeSats, built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, was launched on May 5 along with the Insight lander that successfully touched the Mars surface Monday.
CubeSats are a class of spacecraft based on a standardised small size and modular use of off-the-shelf technologies.
Many have been made by university students, and dozens have been launched into Earth orbit using extra payload mass available on launches of larger spacecraft.
The mission objectives of the two small Mars Cube One (MarCO) which relayed InSight's telemetry was completed after their Martian flyby, NASA said in a statement.
"That's one giant leap for our intrepid, briefcase-sized robotic explorers," said Joel Krajewski, MarCOproject manager at JPL.
MarCO-B, one of the experimental Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats, beamed back an image of Mars from about 6,000 kilometers away during its flyby of the Red Planet on November 26.
"I think CubeSats have a big future beyond Earth's orbit, and the MarCO team is happy to trail-blaze the way," said Krajewski.
"The experimental MarCO CubeSats have also opened a new door to smaller planetary spacecraft. The success of these two unique missions is a tribute to the hundreds of talented engineers and scientists who put their genius and labor into making this a great day," he said.
MarCO's design is a six-unit CubeSat -- about the size of a briefcase -- with a stowed size of about 14.4 x 9.5 x 4.6 inches.