The 30-pound CubeSats will use a compact, cold-gas propulsion system (think fire extinguisher and office chair) to make course adjustments along the way, hopefully arriving and taking their places just as InSight begins its descent to the Martian surface on November 26.
The InSight lander will study the Red Planet's interior using a "self-hammering" probe that will dig deeper than ever before. The three huge dish antennae of NASA's Deep Space Network in California, Australia and Spain will precisely track InSight's position via the X-band radio signals.
HP3 will take Mars' temperature as it burrows down almost 16 feet below the surface - deeper than any previous arms, scoops, drills or probes before it.
"The InSight mission will provide glimpses into the evolutionary processes of all of the rocky planets in the inner solar system", according to the website.
Instruments onboard the lander include the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) provided by the French Space Agency and the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) provided by the German Space Agency. The launching location will be Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
"It's a lander, not a rover, and it will deploy a variety of instruments down onto the ground".
InSight with its solar panels open
Also, since the early history of the Earth's formation is impossible to determine due to the massive changes that occurred during the time, NASA hopes that by studying Mars, which formed similarly to the Earth, they will learn something about our own planet's formation.
Landing on Mars with a spacecraft that's not much bigger than a couple of office desks is "a hugely hard task, and every time we do it, we're on pins and needles", Banerdt said.
In that instance, both satellites were able to manoeuvre themselves to their intended orbits, but NASA will not have quite the same flexibility with a spacecraft bound for Mars.
In addition to being outfitted with next-generation instrumentation, InSight also features a larger solar array, updated electronics and better - color, not black-and-white - cameras.
"The major aspect to MarCO is that it is truly a technology demonstration and high-risk endeavor, very much in the spirit of NASA", Klesh says.
-European mission is dedicated to studying the innards of Mars, with a robotic geologist digging 15 feet into the Martian soil. It's the first planetary mission to launch from the edge of the Pacific. Until now, the hundreds of CubeSats have been confined to Earth orbit. Within two hours of launch, the spacecraft should make its first call home, the earliest confirmation scientists will have that the probe survived the rigours of launch. Live televised coverage will be available on NASA TV, and I've conveniently added the YouTube live feed at the top of this post.