Mars InSight lander has been launched early Saturday and with it, two small satellites called WALL-E and EVE took a ride with it. They don’t look like the characters in the animated movie, but they have something else in common with them.
They are called CubeSats because they look like cubes and this is the first time they travel so deep into space. WALL-E and EVE will journey towards the Red Planet for six and a half months, meaning a distance of 485 million kilometers.
CubeSats like them have been around, hitching rides with big space missions for more than ten years, helping students and experimenters with their studies. There are hundreds of CubeSats on our planet’s orbit. But once NASA created Mars Cube One project – MarCO, it all changed.
The European Space Agency has a CubeSat close to the moon and NASA also wants to send some to the moon and to an asteroid.
The Names: WALL-E and EVE
These cubes contain a propulsion system that uses the same type of cold gas used in fire extinguishers to spray foam. In the movie, WALL-E uses a fire extinguisher to propel itself through space. The members of the team behind the two CubeSats couldn’t resist and named them WALL-E and EVE, also considering the romantic moments between the two small robots.
Continuing on the romantic side, WALL-E and EVE will, unfortunately, be a few thousands of kilometers apart from each other, to avoid a collision. But Brian Clement, an engineer on the project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, California), said that they’re quite close to each other by space standards.
WALL-E and EVE will remain 3,500 kilometers outside Mars when InSight will land on Mars on 26 November.
NASA’s goals with these small satellites are first to test their cubes’ maneuvering system. Then they want to see if the cubes can transmit data from Mars to Earth when InSight lands on Mars.
If it’s a successful communication, then the flight controllers will hear about the landing after a few minutes. NASA also has a Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that circles the planet and will communicate the descent and touchdown of InSight.
If the CubeSats work, they will be useful for providing information on a descent at planets that don’t have a Reconnaissance Orbiter.
After going past Mars, at a distance of 3,500 kilometers from the Red Planet, WALL-E and EVE will only survive in space as long as they have the fuel. One day, they won’t be able to point their solar wings to the direction of the sun to recharge.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.