NASA satellite makes evasive maneuver to dodge Mars' Phobos moon

NASA had a bit of excitement earlier this week, with its Jet Propulsion Laboratory's flight controllers having to send commends to the MAVEN spacecraft, making it perform an evasive maneuver to avoid smashing into one of Mars' moons, Phobos. The spacecraft was forced to speed up by about 1.3ft/second, an adjustment that tweaked MAVEN's orbit and allowed it to skirt by Phobos without incident.

Evasive maneuvers like this are unusual for the space agency, but not unheard of. Had the spacecraft been allowed to continue on like usual, it would have reached the same point in space as the moon in the span of only a handful of seconds, likely resulting in an impact. By speeding up the spacecraft slightly, MAVEN was able to miss a collision with the moon by about 2.5 minutes.

That's not due to any sort of error on the controllers' parts, but rather because of MAVEN's relatively close proximity to the moon — it orbits about 6000 miles away from Phobos, enabling it to study the space rock but also, apparently, crowd the space at times.

Phobos itself is quite small, at least as far as moons go, being only about 10 x 14 x 11 miles in size. Of course, it is much larger than MAVEN, which is described as egg-shaped and tasked with orbiting near the Martian landscapes. Though such evasive maneuvers don't happen often, NASA controllers are always monitoring so they can be ready when they are needed.

SOURCE: Reuters