NASA spacecraft MAVEN performed an unexpected maneuver to avoid the impact with moon Phobos, Red Planet’s moon. The rover has steered away, deviating from its original path to prevent a future collision with Phobos. MARVEN or The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN craft have been orbiting the Red Planet for about two years, studying the ionosphere and upper atmosphere of the planet.
The rover also analyzed the interaction of the planet with the solar wind. On February 28, the rover performed a rocket motor burn which helped it improve its velocity by 0.4 meters per second. Even if this is considered a small correction, it was extremely significant avoiding a collision which would have occurred a week later.
In this way, due to this inspired maneuver, MAVEN managed to omit the crater-filled moon by approximately 2.5 minutes. Experts argued that this is the first collision procedure carried out by this spacecraft to avoid the impact with moon Phobos. Scientists are informed about the orbits of Phobos and MAVEN, and they know that the timing difference is bound to ensure them that the spaceship will not collide.
MAVEN has an orbit which crosses the orbit of Phobos but also the orbits of other spaceships several times per year. When their orbits cross, MAVEN and the other cosmic object may be in danger of colliding if they reach the intersection at the same time. Scientists are aware that these scenarios might happen and they always need to prepare for such situations in advance.
The orbits of these rovers are monitored by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which is responsible for sounding an alert when detecting a slight possibility of collision. Researchers managed to foresee the impact one week earlier. Calculations indicated that moon Phobos and MARVEN had a great chance of hitting each other on March 6, both reaching the orbit crossing point within 7 seconds of one another.
Considering the size of Mars’ Phobos, which was designed to be larger than the actual moon to be conservative, they indicated an increased risk of colliding if specialists would not have taken action in time. Bruce Jakosky, the principal investigator of MAVEN and a researcher at the University of Colorado in Boulder, argued that the tracking and navigation teams did an excellent job when preventing this impact.
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