• Mars, the Red Planet

Mars, the Red Planet (Photo : Reuters)

NASA is set to launch the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander in September 2016, along with two small cube satellites or CubeSats, which are relatively easy to build and design and not expensive to place in orbit.

Formerly called GEMS, the InSight mission will place a lander on the red planed designed to drill beneath the surface. Accompanying the stationary lander to Mars are the two CubeSats designed as communication relays, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California Institute of Technology.

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The InSight mission will also investigate the deep interior of Mars to better understand its evolution as a rocky planet. Through NASA's Discovery Program for launch in 2016, the mission was provisionally chosen for funding.

To study the interior structure of Mars as part of its investigation, InSight will use a heat-flow probe and a seismometer. The spacecraft design is based on the Phoenix Mars lander mission by NASA, which was successful.

While CubeSats are typically boxes that are about 4 inches square, the satellites dubbed Mars Cube One (MarCO) being built by NASA engineers are six unit CubeSats that about 14.4 by 9.5 inches.

In a statement, NASA's planetary science division director Jim Green explained that MarCO will fly independently to Mars and it is "an experimental capability that has been added to the InSight mission, but is not needed for mission success."

When the stationary raft InSight arrives in Mars in 2016, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will receive updates and forward them to Earth. While transmitting in a different band, the MRO cannot receive information in one band but MarCo can simultaneously transmit in X-band and receive in UHF and X-band frequencies.