NASA is now planning to bolster its traffic monitoring mechanism to avoid spacecraft collision. NASA has increased the process of traffic monitoring, communication and however planning to make sure that Mars orbiter do not approach one another too closely.
Space is becoming a crowded place. We often hear how space debris is posing a threat to the astronauts on the ISS. With more and more spacecrafts heading to the next giant leap for mankind, Mars, a similar situation is developing on Mars also. Last year two Mars orbiters were sent to the red planet.
Last year NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) went into an orbit around Mars. Today the number of active Mars Orbiters is 5. At present the 2003, Mars Express from the European Space Agency, 2001 Mars Odyssey and the 2006 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (Both from NASA) are orbiting the red planet.
The newly enhanced collision avoidance process will track the approximate location of the different Orbiters along with the Mars Global Surveyor, a 1997 orbiter that is no longer working. It is not just the number of spacecrafts but its orbital pathway, speed and types of orbit missions which are also important.
Robert Shotwell, Chief Engineer Mars Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California said that earlier collision prevention was coordinated with the Odyssey and MRO navigation teams. Earlier this was not a big issue.
The highly elliptical orbit of MAVEN crossing the altitudes of other orbits warrants the need to have a collision-avoidance process in place. Shotwell added that all the orbital and their path were closely monitored. There is a very low probability of any maneuver, but it is worth the effort.
Traffic management is a complex task on earth with more than 1000 active orbiters plus a huge quantity of space debris and defunct satellites. As Mars exploration increases and will continue to do so with future missions, precautions are increasing.