NASA enhanced collision-avoidance system to avoid traffic jams between satellites orbiting Mars

NASA in July 2015 beefed up its enhanced collision-avoidance system with an aim to ensure that Mars orbiters do not approach each other too closely. The system involves process of traffic monitoring, communication and maneuver planning.

The step was taken after addition of two new spacecraft, namely NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and India's Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan), to orbit the Mars has gone up to five.

These two spacecrafts MAVEN and Mangalyaan has 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).

It will also track the approximate location of NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, a 1997 orbiter that is no longer working.

The new formal collision-avoidance process for Mars is part of NASA's Multi-Mission Automated Deep-Space Conjunction Assessment Process. A side benefit of it is that information about when two orbiters will be near each other -- though safely apart -- could be used for planning coordinated science observations. The pair could look at some part of Mars or its atmosphere from essentially the same point of view simultaneously with complementary instruments.

Odyssey, MRO and MAVEN -- together with NASA's two active Mars rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity -- are part of NASA's robotic exploration of Mars that is preparing the way for human-crewed missions there in the 2030s and later, in NASA's Journey to Mars strategy.

All five active Mars orbiters use the communication and tracking services of NASA's Deep Space Network, which is managed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). This brings trajectory information together, and engineers can run computer projections of future trajectories out to a few weeks ahead for comparisons.

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