The full-scale mock-up of NASA's MarCO CubeSat held by Farah Alibay, a systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is dwarfed by the one-half-scale model of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter behind her.
MarCO, short for Mars Cube One, is the first interplanetary use of CubeSat technologies for small spacecraft. JPL is preparing two MarCO twins for launch in March 2016. They will ride along on an Atlas V launch vehicle lifting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, with NASA's next Mars lander, InSight. MarCO is a technology demonstration aspect of the InSight mission.
The mock-up in the photo is in a configuration to show the deployed position of components that correspond to MarCO's two solar panels and two antennas. During launch, those components will be stowed for a total vehicle size of about 14.4 inches (36.6 centimeters) by 9.5 inches (24.3 centimeters) by 4.6 inches (11.8 centimeters).
After launch, the two MarCO CubeSats and InSight will be navigated separately to Mars. The MarCO twins will fly past the planet in September 2016 just as InSight is descending through the atmosphere and landing on the surface. MarCO is a technology demonstration to relay communications from InSight to Earth during InSight's descent and landing. InSight communications during that critical period will also be recorded by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for delayed transmission to Earth.
InSight -- an acronym for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport -- will study the interior of Mars to improve understanding of the processes that formed and shaped rocky planets, including Earth.
The MarCO and InSight projects are managed for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.
Photojournal Note: After thorough examination, NASA managers have decided to suspend the planned March 2016 launch of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission. The decision follows unsuccessful attempts to repair a leak in a section of the prime instrument in the science payload.