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MarCO: Early Operations of the First CubeSats to Mars


The MarCO (Mars Cube One) spacecraft launched with the InSight mission from Vandenburg Airforce Base on May 5, 2018. These spacecraft, the first interplanetary CubeSats, serve as technology demonstrators, supporting the InSight Mars lander. During InSight’s entry, descent, and landing sequence, the MarCO spacecraft will flyby Mars, collecting transmitted data from the lander, and relaying it back to the Deep Space Network (DSN) on Earth. This serves as a demonstrator for the “carry-your-own-relay” concept that might be utilized on more challenging future missions Prior to InSight support, the mission will also demonstrate the capability for a CubeSat sized, DSN compatible deep space transponder, to independently navigate from the Earth to Mars with a small spacecraft, and flight testing for numerous commercial products. In this paper, we present a status update of the mission, an overview of early operations, and an outline for the remainder of the mission to Mars. A broad description of the planetary protection approach that MarCO utilized is provided, as well as detail of the first trajectory correction maneuver

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This paper was published in DigitalCommons@USU.

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