Can There Be Life on Mars?

In our human quest for other habitable planets, we have found our most viable second home on Mars. Our indomitable spirit propels a trajectory of technological advancements that fuel further space exploration, including the recent launch of NASA probe, Insight, set to land on the epic red planet in November 2018. Insight’s primary mission is to collect data on Mars’ interior and to study seismic activity. Concurrently, NASA is demonstrating new CubeSat technology. Piggybacking on the Atlas V rocket boosting Insight, are MarCO A and MarCO B, the first-ever interplanetary CubeSats to enter deep space – tiny payloads that can deliver affordable communications between spacecraft and mission control.

Insight, accompanied by MarCO A and B, launched May 5 from Vandenberg AFB with Peraton’s experts assisting with mission planning for the simultaneous events. Working closely with NASA and other mission partners, Peraton performed compatibility testing and validation of ground stations and spacecraft, expertise our team routinely delivers as part of mission support for the Deep Space Network (DSN). The Peraton team operates and maintains six large DSN antennas, as well as multiple network and communications systems, several network operations centers, and facilities for testing, logistics, and maintenance and repair, along with an array of engineering services.

Upon launch, Peraton’s sister team supporting NASA’s Space Communications and Network Services (SCNS) program performed initial acquisition of the launch vehicle over California, with DSN picking up the spacecraft after separation by the antennas over Goldstone in California and by the antennas over Canberra, Australia. The DSN will continue to track the spacecraft as they cruise to Mars.

The journey of nearly 300 million miles will conclude with MarCO A and B monitoring Insight as it enters Mars’ atmosphere and lands on its surface. During relay testing, Insight and MarCO A and B will be locked in sync, sending signals back to Earth and each other, in a breakthrough delivery of communications technology destined to replace obsolete satellites in orbit today. While inflight, the DSN will also help collect Doppler measurements of speed and other indicators to keep mission control informed. The CubeSats are expected to pave the way for more affordable travel into deep space – and the Peraton team plans to be onboard!

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