The First Interplanetary CubeSat Mission
When NASA launches its next mission on the journey to Mars, the flight will include two CubeSats. This will be the first time CubeSats have flown in deep space. If this flyby demonstration is successful, the technology will provide NASA the ability to quickly transmit status information about the main spacecraft after it lands on Mars.
The twin communications-relay CubeSats, being built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, constitute a technology demonstration called Mars Cube One (MarCO). CubeSats are a class of spacecraft based on a standardized small size and modular use of off-the-shelf technologies. Many have been made by university students, and dozens have been launched into Earth orbit using extra payload mass available on launches of larger spacecraft. The basic CubeSat unit is a box roughly 4 inches (10 centimeters) square. Larger CubeSats are multiples of that unit. MarCO’s design is a six-unit CubeSat – about the size of a briefcase — with a stowed size of about 14.4 inches (36.6 centimeters) by 9.5 inches (24.3 centimeters) by 4.6 inches (11.8 centimeters).
Both MarCO CubeSats use VACCO propulsion systems for reaction wheel desaturation and trajectory correction maneuvers. These 2U propulsion systems are critical to maintain stability of the CubeSats, ensure that the CubeSats are in the correct location and pointing toward earth during the critical minutes of Insight’s Entry Decent and Landing. The propulsion systems features 4 axial thrusters that modify CubeSat velocity and provide thrust vector control during Delta-V maneuvers. The VACCO propulsion systems also contain 4 Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters for Spacecraft stability, pointing control and unloading of the reaction wheels.
Additional information on the MarCO mission and the VACCO MarCO Propulsion System is here: