Nasa's first mini-spacecraft in deep space go silent

NASA satellite MarCO-B took this image of Mars during its flyby of the Red Planet on Nov. 26 2018

NASA satellite MarCO-B took this image of Mars during its flyby of the Red Planet on Nov. 26 2018

The experimental technology cost a fraction of what most space missions do - $18.5 million.

NASA has spent billions hunting for traces of life on Mars - with one expert claiming aliens "do exist" and will be found within the next 10 years.

NASA says it has lost contact with two tiny satellites that launched on a technology-proving mission to Mars a year ago.

Before NASA's InSight lander gathers data on Martian surface vibrations, aka "marsquakes", it needs to protect its seismographic instrument from the winds and temperature changes during its stay on the red planet. They are tiny satellites known as "cubesats".

Nasa has lost touch with the first mini-spacecraft that ventured into deep space, according to the United States space agency which said that it is unlikely the twin CubeSats will be heard from again.

The cubesats were named Wall-E and Eve after the characters from the popular animated Disney film. The relatively low-priced satellites were the first time that CubeSats had entered the space between planets. Inside the dome, the seismometer is also contained in a titanium, vacuum-sealed container, the combination of which helps insulate the instrument even further from environmental hazards.

Following Insight's successful touchdown, Wall-E and Eve continued travelling beyond Mars to test their parameters.

But it appears the NASA spacecraft has finally been pushed beyond their limits. WALL-E is now over 1.6 million kilometres away from Mars and EVE has ventured even further - 3.2 million kilometres from the Red Planet. Trajectory data suggests that Wall-E is more than 1 million miles past Mars with EVE being almost 2 million miles past Mars.

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The mission team has several theories for why they have not been able to contact the pair.

Wall-E has a leaky thruster, and issues with controlling the direction of the craft could be causing them to wobble and lose the ability to send and receive commands.

They may have suffered malfunctions affecting the brightness sensors which point them towards the sun, allowing solar panels to recharge the crafts' batteries.

The MarCOs are in orbit around the Sun and will only get farther away as February wears on. However, it's not guaranteed that their equipment will survive such a long journey.

Both spacecraft won't start moving toward the Sun again until the summer, at which time, NASA JPL will attempt to contact them again, assuming the batteries and other parts last until then.

John Baker, MarCO programme manager, said: "There's big potential in these small packages".

"CubeSats - part of a larger group of spacecraft called SmallSats - are a new platform for space exploration that is affordable to more than just government agencies".

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