The next spacecraft set to land on Mars is bringing its own communications team. InSight, a lander scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet on November 26, is accompanied by a pair of briefcase-sized spacecraft that will send details of the landing to Earth in almost real time.

The twin craft on this mission are CubeSats — tiny, inexpensive satellites that are easy to build and launch. Called Mars Cube One, or MarCO for short, they will fly past Mars as InSight lands, becoming the smallest spacecraft ever to be entrusted with a task as crucial as relaying landing information for a mission. Now nearing Mars, they are also already the first CubeSats to make it so far from Earth. If all goes well with InSight’s landing, future Mars missions could also be equipped with their own single-use comms team.

“A future where landers and rovers brought their own communications systems for landing, that would be fantastic,” says engineer Joel Krajewski of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and MarCO’s program manager.

Let's hear it for tiny satellites (CubeSats). To read more, click here.