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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.