NASA's First Deep Space Mini Spacecraft Go Silent

Pixaaaarrrrrrghh! Mars-snapping CubeSats Wall-E and Eve declared dead (for now) by NASA bods

NASA now says that theMarCO spacecraft have stopped communicating and it is assumed we will never hear from EVE or Wall-E again.

NASA launched a pair of spacecraft that were very small, about the size of a briefcase, known collectively as MarCO a year ago.

EVE and WALL-E were used to ferry communications from InSight and helped beam data back from the rover.

WALL-E sent back stunning images of Mars as well, while EVE performed some simple radio science.

Scientists working on the Mars Cube One (MarCO) mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena have not heard from the pair of briefcase-sized spacecraft for over a month now, raising concerns the twins may have reached their limit and run out of power after a successful Mars fly-by. They both start inching closer to the Sun this summer, and the team will attempt to contact them again.

The two probes, named after characters from a famous animated film by Pixar, became space pioneers for having the latest technology called CubeSats - small and relatively cheap satellites, capable of operating in deep space. They were nicknamed WALL-E and EVE after the Pixar characters of the same name and were last heard from on December 29 and January 4, respectively. Based on trajectory calculations, WALL-E is now more than 1.6 million km past Mars.

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The mission team at JPL has several theories for why the spacecraft have been silent. The agency knows of a problem Wall-E has with a leaky thruster, and there's also doubt the two are capable of correctly pointing their antennas towards Earth as they go deeper into space. At such distances from Earth the probes have to align their antennas very precisely to communicate with operations control and wobbling might prevent them from doing so.

The MarCOs are in orbit around the Sun and will only get farther away as February wears on.

They will continue to fly away from Earth as February goes on which means receiving data even more hard. The team will reattempt to contact the CubeSats at that time, though it's anyone's guess whether their batteries and other parts will last that long.

Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Sciences Division, described the MarCo mission as "a demonstration of future potential capability" while MarCO program manager John Baker of JPL praised them as a technology affordable to private companies as well as to governments.

"This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us", said in a statement Andy Klesh, the mission's chief engineer at JPL.

"We've put a stake in the ground", he said. The MarCo (short for Mars Cube One) mission was the first interplanetary mission to use small CubeSats.

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