NASA is sending a tiny helicopter to Mars

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The "Wall-E" CubeSat took a "pale blue dot image" of Earth and the moon from more than 600 thousand miles away. The two Mars Cube One (or just MarCO) satellites will swing by the planet to act as communication platforms for InSight.

The MarCO-B CubeSat, known by the cute nickname "Wall-E", snapped a photo on May 9 as proof it was able to properly unfold its high-gain antenna, which it'll need to communicate from Mars. The high-gain, X-band antenna is a flat panel engineered to direct radio waves the way a parabolic dish antenna does.

For the first time in history, a space program plans to fly a helicopter on the surface of another planet: NASA has announced that it will be sending an autonomous rotocraft to Mars by the summer of 2020 as a new way to explore the planet's surface and to test the new technology.

According to NASA, the Earth-Moon duo photograph is the CubeSat version of the classic "pale blue dot" portrait of Earth which was taken from several billion miles away by Voyager 1 back in 1990. Controllers on Earth will command the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight.

"All of this has all just become possible in recent years, mostly from the advancement of commercial electronics", said Mimi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it's a big milestone", Klesh said. "Both our Cubesats are healthy and functioning properly. We're looking forward to seeing them travel even farther", he added.

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The MarCO spacecraft are the first CubeSats ever launched to deep space.

Most never go beyond the orbit of Earth, they generally stay below 497 miles (800 kilometres) above the planet.

On May 5, NASA launched InSight Mars mission to understand the inner chemistry of the red planet.

The tiny satellites will follow the InSight Lander to Mars, as Nasa wants to see if the small satellites can relay information back to Earth. JPL also leads the InSight mission. The helicopter's twin blades will whirl at 3,000 rpm, about 10 times the rate of a helicopter's blades on Earth, to compensate for Mars' thin atmosphere.

In over five decades of robotic exploration, NASA has sent orbiters, landers, rovers and even Cubesats to Mars. Technology suppliers for MarCO include: Blue Canyon Technologies of Boulder, Colorado, for the attitude-control system; VACCO Industries of South El Monte, California, for the propulsion system; AstroDev of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for electronics; MMA Design LLC, also of Boulder, for solar arrays; and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc., a Terran Orbital Company in San Luis Obispo, California, for the CubeSat dispenser system.