Side­kicks will tell NASA how land­ing goes

Belleville News-Democrat (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MAR­CIA DUNN

A pair of tiny ex­per­i­men­tal satel­lites trail­ing NASA’s In­Sight space­craft all the way to Mars face their big­gest test yet.

Their mis­sion: Broad­cast im­me­di­ate news, good or bad, of In­Sight’s plunge through the Mar­tian at­mos­phere on Mon­day.

Named WALL-E and EVE af­ter the main char­ac­ters in the 2008 an­i­mated movie, the twin Cube­Sats will pass within a few thou­sand miles of Mars as the lan­der at­tempts its dicey touch­down.

If these pip­squeaks man­age to re­lay In­Sight’s ra­dio sig­nals to ground con­trollers nearly 100 mil­lion miles away, we’ll know within min­utes whether the space­craft landed safely.

A look at In­Sight’s it­ty­bitty side­kicks:

Hitch­hik­ers: WALL-E and EVE, each the size of a

brief­case, hitched a ride on the same rocket that launched In­Sight to Mars in May.

Flight for­ma­tion: NASA kept the Cube­Sats about 6,000 miles away from In­Sight dur­ing the 300 mil­lion-mile jour­ney to Mars to pre­vent any col­li­sions or close calls.

Best be­hav­ior: For the

record, EVE has be­haved bet­ter than WALL-E dur­ing the 6 1⁄2- month voy­age to Mars. Each CubeSat has the same type of cold gas propul­sion that’s used in fire ex­tin­guish­ers to spray foam.

All ears: It takes eight min­utes and seven sec­onds for a ra­dio sig­nal to get from Mars to Earth, one way. It should take less than a minute on top of that to get word from In­Sight, if the mini sa­tel-

lites co­op­er­ate. That means NASA could know In­Sight’s fate close to real time.

Be­yond Mars: Whether or not they pro­vide any in­sight on In­Sight, WALL-E and EVE will zoom past Mars and re­main in an el­lip­ti­cal or­bit around the sun. En­gi­neers ex­pect them to keep work­ing for a cou­ple weeks be­yond Mars de­pend­ing on how long the fuel and elec­tron­ics last.

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