NASA ‘s MAVEN spacecraft and Phobos would have arrived at an intersection in their orbits within seven seconds of each other on March 6th. Phobos is the larger of the two Martian moons, and MAVEN would most likely crash into it if the space agency left it on its own.
Thankfully, the mission’s scientists have been keeping a close eye on all the celestial bodies that cross the spacecraft’s path. They were able to predict the scenario in advance and were able to perform the spacecraft’s first collision avoidance maneuver to prevent the disaster from happening.
MAVEN carried out a rocket motor burn on Tuesday to boost its velocity by around just a little bit less than one mile per hour. That’s enough for the probe to miss the innermost Martian moon by two-and-a-half minutes.
Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN Mission (MAVEN) is a space probe developed by NASA designed to study the Martian atmosphere while orbiting Mars. Mission goals include determining how the planet’s atmosphere and water, presumed to have once been substantial, were lost over time.
MAVEN was successfully launched aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle at the beginning of the first launch window on November 18, 2013. Following the first engine burn of the Centaur second stage, the vehicle coasted in low Earth orbit for 27 minutes before a second Centaur burn of five minutes to insert it into a heliocentric Mars transit orbit.
On September 22, 2014, MAVEN reached Mars and was inserted into an areocentric elliptic orbit 6,200 km by 150 km above the planet’s surface. The principal investigator for the spacecraft is Bruce Jakosky of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Image credit: NASA/GSFC