NASA’s WALL-E satellite has not been heard from for more than a month, with the space agency considering it unlikely it will be heard from again.
The small satellite (also called MarCO-A) left the Earth’s orbit in May last year, becoming one of the first to do so along with its fellow cube satellite MarCO-B, aka EVE.
The two MarCO spacecraft, named after the Pixar characters of the same names, have not communicated with NASA for more than a month and it’s possible the devices may have reached their limits.
NASA released a statement on Tuesday (February 5), making the announcement and admitting that the ‘twins’ will likely never be heard from again.
Andy Klesh, the mission’s chief engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said:
This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturised technology and seeing just how far it could take us. We’ve put a stake in the ground. Future CubeSats might go even farther.
The government space agency admitted MarCO’s success was ‘measured by survival’, stating that the satellites were already pushing the limits of experimental technology by operating in deep space.
As reported by CNN, the two cube satellites were the first to fly into deep space in May last year and were launched in conjunction with InSight, a robotic lander designed to study the deep interior of Mars.
In November, InSight landed on Mars followed by WALL-E and EVE after seven months of travelling through space; the two satellites sent communications to Earth when the lander entered the Martian atmosphere for the landing and shared data with NASA scientists.
Just one month later, the satellites communicated for the last time – WALL-E was last heard from on December 29, while EVE hasn’t been heard from since January 4.
NASA estimate that WALL-E is now currently more than 1 million miles past Mars and EVE is even further away – almost 2 million miles past the red planet.
It’s not known exactly why NASA has been unable to contact the two CubeSats, although there are several theories about what went wrong, including the possibility that their brightness sensors that allow the CubeSats to stay pointed at the Sun and recharge their batteries could be faulty.
Other factors to take into consideration is that WALL-E has a leaky thruster, and also altitude-control issues could be causing the satellites to wobble and lose the ability to send and receive commands.
NASA will attempt to recover the twins in summer when the CubeSats will start moving towards the Sun again.
Regardless of whether they succeed though, the team say they consider MarCO a ‘spectacular success’ and are even set to launch a variety of new CubeSats in coming years.
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