Cubesats heading to Mars complete first course correction


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The two cubesats, MarCO-A and MarCO-B, that were launched with NASA’s InSight Mars lander, have both completed their first course corrections, the first ever done in interplanetary space by cubesats.

While MarCO-A corrected its course to Mars relatively smoothly, MarCO-B faced some unexpected challenges. Its maneuver was smaller due to a leaky thruster valve that engineers have been monitoring for the past several weeks. The leak creates small trajectory changes on its own. Engineers have factored in these nudges so that MarCO-B can still perform a trajectory correction maneuver. It will take several more weeks of tracking to refine these nudges so that MarCO-B can follow InSight on its cruise through space.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that MarCO-B can follow MarCO-A,” said Joel Krajewski of JPL, MarCO’s project manager. “But we wanted to take more time to understand the underlying issues before attempting the next course-correction maneuver.”

Once the MarCO team has analyzed data, they’ll know the size of follow-on maneuvers. Several more course corrections will be needed to reach the Red Planet.

Since these two cubesats are an engineering test, even MarCo-B’s fuel leak issue provides valuable information that will make future interplanetary missions more likely and viable.

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  • Edward

    One of the most interesting aspects of this test of cubesats is that it could demonstrate that relatively inexpensive hardware can be of vital importance. Entrepreneurs are already innovating plenty of money making ideas and showing their feasibility.

    There is a concept being bandied about the NewSpace industry called “minimum viable product.” Several companies are showing that they can start making money with small investments and that additional capital could result in a profitable space venture.

    Here are two commentaries on the commercialization of space by starting small and growing later.
    http://bt.e-ditionsbyfry.com/publication/?i=496736&article_id=3087248&view=articleBrowser&ver=html5#{%22issue_id%22:496736,%22view%22:%22articleBrowser%22,%22article_id%22:%223087248%22}

    and
    http://spacenews.com/surge-of-new-space-companies-has-impressed-even-veteran-industry-observers/

    I think that this is Luxembourg’s basic idea in fostering new and growing space companies. Just a few years ago, getting funding for a space business was difficult. Just ask Kistler Aerospace or anyone who worked for that now defunct company — defunct because they could not raise enough capital to remain in the COTS program.

    These two cubesats going to Mars could demonstrate that low Earth orbit is not the only place where this concept can apply.

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