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A Tiny Satellite Headed to Mars Looks Back at Earth

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Tiny NASA satellite bound for Mars snaps photo of Earth from thousands of miles away

See that tiny blue speck floating in an infinite void? That probe was looking back at Earth from a distance of 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers), but MarCO-B was much closer to home - just 620,000 miles (1 million kilometers).

The Mars Helicopter is the result of four years of design, testing, and redesign at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.

Instead of the pale blue dot resemblance, there is now no such similarities between the Cubesats (MarCO-A and MarCO-B) and the Voyager 1 of 1990.

"CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone", Klesh pointed out. "Both our Cubesats are healthy and functioning properly". One of the antennas on each CubeSat, operating in X-band, is created to beam signals back to Earth from distances as far away as Mars without needing much power, an essential capability for such small spacecraft.

NASA said the MarCO spacecraft are the first CubeSats ever launched into deep space.

MarCO was launched on May 5, along with InSight Lander, which will touch down on Mars and study the planet's interior.

If all goes according to plan, MarCO-A and -B will fly by Mars on November 26, the same day that InSight arrives at the Red Planet for its crucial entry, descent and landing (EDL) sequence.

Should they make it all the way to Mars, they will radio back data about InSight while it enters the atmosphere and descends to the planet's surface. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will be communicating with InSight as well in case MarCO doesn't work out.

On May 9, the CubeSats were more than 600,000 miles from Earth. The picture courtesy for the 1990 image goes to the NASA's voyager one probe.

The Moon
NASA Is Sending a Space Helicopter to Mars for the First Time in History

The MarCO CubeSats will test out their propulsion capabilities in the first of several course-correction maneuvers set for late next week, Good said.

Earth and the moon appear in the picture - but they look really small.

But they do not carry the typical propellants used by satellites.

Artist's concept of the twin MarCO spacecraft - called Wall-E and Eva by spaceflight engineers - as they fly through deep space.

Rather than building and launching bulky satellites into space, these small, cheaper spacecraft can accompany missions to land on other planets and moons, making hugely expensive space exploration considerably more affordable.

Mars 2020 is slated to launch on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket during that July.

NASA developed the CubeSat in order to use it in its experiment and research missions.

"Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington via an agency-issued release.

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