NASA's two CubeSats send back the first picture of Mars
Image Source: VOA Learning English

NASA’s two CubeSats, the first ever satellites to journey in deep space, have sent back a picture of Mars where the planet appears just like a small red dot in the big dark sky. The duo Marco CubeSats that share a ride along with InSight Mars robotic lander were developed and designed to determine if they were able to survive travelling into deep space.

The official names given to the twin CubeSats are ‘MarCO-A’ and ‘MarCO-B’. The picture of the Red Planet was captured on Wednesday, Oct 3 from an approximate distance of 12.8 million kilometres. The image of Mars was taken by a wide-angle camera installed on the top region of Marco-B to test the exposure settings of it. Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA located in Pasadena, Cali launched the Marco mission and expected to generate more pictures of Mars as the two CubeSats approach it.

The CubeSats will showcase their transmission capabilities on November 26 while the Insight lander tries to make a perfect landing on Mars. Marco-A and Marco-B both are chasing Mars, a moving target orbiting around the Sun.

The CubeSats will have to make a journey of nearly 85 million kilometres to be at the perfect spot for InSight’s landing. The duo has already made a journey of about 399 million kilometres until now. The wide-angle camera installed on Marco-B focuses out straight from the CubeSat’s deck. In the image captured, Mars looks like a small red dot in the wide sky.

To capture the picture, the researchers had the CubeSat programmed in a way that it could rotate in space and have its body pointing towards Mars. After attempting numerous test images, the researchers were able to capture clear, red colour pinprick.

To take the image, the Marco team had to programme the CubeSat to rotate in space so that the deck of its boxy “body” was pointing at Mars. After several test images, they were excited to see that clear, red colour pinprick.

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