With two more Mars orbiters sent into space last year, including India’s MOM probe, traffic has picked up around the red planet so much so that NASA has bolstered its traffic monitoring process to avoid spacecraft collisions. The US space agency has beefed up a process of traffic monitoring, communication and manoeuvre planning to ensure that Mars orbiters do not approach each other too closely.
Last year’s addition of two new spacecraft orbiting Mars brought the census of active Mars orbiters to five, the most ever, NASA said. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission joined the 2003 Mars Express from ESA (the European Space Agency) and two from NASA: the 2001 Mars Odyssey and the 2006 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
The newly enhancedcollision-avoidance process also tracks the approximate location of NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, a 1997 orbiter that is no longer working. It’s not just the total number that matters, but also the types of orbits missions use for achieving their science goals. “Previously, collision avoidance was coordinated between the Odyssey and MRO navigation teams,” said Robert Shotwell, Mars Programme chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.