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Satellite tested on Cal Poly SLO captures photo of Mars

A portfolio size tested on Cal Poly recently took a historic photo of Mars – almost 250 million miles from…

A portfolio size tested on Cal Poly recently took a historic photo of Mars – almost 250 million miles from the earth.

A wide-angle camera connected to one of two identical CubeSat satellites took the picture about 8 million miles from Mars on October 3 as a test of its exposure settings, according to a Cal Poly press release.

The satellites are called MarCO-A and MarCO-B cards for the Mars Cube One – but they have been nicknamed “Eve” and “Wall-E” by their engineers, the publisher says. (The satellites share their nickname with a pair of robots from the 2008 animated movie “WALL-E”.)

To capture the image, engineers must program Wall-E to rotate in space so that the deck of its “body” pointed to Mars, which is a moving target when it circles the sun, according to the release.

One of NASA’s twin MarCO spacecraft took the picture of Mars on October 3, 2018. The MarCO satellites underwent testing and preparation at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in February.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

CubeSat technology was created by former Cal Poly Professor Jordi Puig-Suari and Stanford Professor Bob Twiggs in 1999, making satellite launches available for universities, colleges and private companies around the world.

The MarCO satellites, measuring 12 inches long, 4 inches deep and 8 inches wide, appeared on the campus in San Luis Obispo on February 28, the release said.

Engineers from Cal Poly and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory spent the next 17 days integrating the satellites into the installation boxes that threw out each CubeSat in space, the publisher said.

The satellites were launched from Vandenberg’s Air Force Base on May 5 aboard the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, Cal Poly said.

“We have been waiting six months to come to Mars,” Cody Colley, MarCO’s Head of Mission at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in the release. “The mission’s cruise phase is always difficult, so you take all the little wins when they come. Finally, the planet is definitely a big win for the team.”

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The MarCO mission hopes to produce more images when CubeSat satellites connect Mars before a scheduled November 26 airplane of the planet, as reported.

Cal Poly says that the MarCO satellites are the first CubeSats that travel to deep space.

“No one would have imagined that 10 or 20 years ago,” said Ryan Nugent, a personal flight technician at Cal Poly.

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