NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft in orbit around Mars maneuvered out of the path of Phobos earlier this week after navigators predicted the spacecraft could run into the Martian moon in the near future, highlighting the challenge of tracking an international fleet of Mars probes set to double in size by 2021.
The MAVEN orbiter, in its third year studying the Martian atmosphere, performed a minor rocket burn Feb. 28 to change its speed by less than 1 mph (0.4 meters per second), NASA said, tweaking its trajectory enough to dodge a projected collision with Phobos a week later.
On its new path, MAVEN will miss the irregularly-shaped moon by around two-and-a-half minutes. The rocket burn was MAVEN’s first collision avoidance maneuver to move out of the way of Phobos, NASA said.
Phobos is located around 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) above Mars, higher than the altitude of NASA’s other operational orbiters — Mars Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. But MAVEN is positioned in an elliptical orbit, carrying it as high as 3,800 miles (about 6,100 kilometers) on each lap around the planet before skimming the Martian atmosphere at the orbit’s lowest point.
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