Mars 2021: NASA Anticipates A Traffic Jam At The Red Planet

First Posted: Feb 27, 2017 03:46 AM EST

American space agency NASA is reportedly anticipating a traffic jam at Mars in 2021. A host of spacecraft are in the lineup to be launched for arrival at the Red Planet in February 2021.

The best time to launch a spacecraft to Mars comes every 26 months when the planet is in the best alignment position with Earth. The next time period that can make the best use of the perfect alignment window happens to be in July/August 2020. Not surprisingly, the 2020 launch window will see a plethora of spacecraft from various nations and private companies taking off for Mars.

In the lineup for journey to Mars are Europe and China, both of which are planning to launch rovers to the Red Planet in 2020. Furthermore, ESA wants to send an additional lander and CNSA will also launch an accompanying orbiter and lander. Meanwhile, India’s space agency ISRO is going to launch its second orbiter to Mars and is also considering sending over a rover and/or a lander.

UAE has its own plan of becoming the first Islamic nation to have its presence on Mars by sending an orbiter. Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX is looking toward launching a Dragon capsule to Mars in 2020. Then there is NASA’s Mars 2020 rover slated for takeoff at the same time period. The new fleet of spacecraft will join the currently functioning eight spacecraft on Mars.

2020 is going to be an exciting period in Mars exploration; however, it creates a problem for NASA. The American space agency is worried about directing, controlling and communicating with all the spacecraft to Mars. Its top concern is preventing them from colliding with each other. Collisions are possible not just among the spacecraft, which will be on their way to Mars, but also with the small moon Phobos that the Red Planet continues to pull toward onto its surface.

“We are worried about our orbiters colliding with one another. We worry that some of them may collide with Phobos,” Fuk Li, JPL's Director for the Mars Exploration Directorate, told the Aviation Week. “If we get close together, or we project that they will get close together, we will alert all the missions and watch (the spacecraft) to see how they progress.

Popular Mechanics reports that the biggest challenge for NASA will be managing communication with all the spacecraft when they arrive at the Red Planet in 2021, especially because they will be converging on the same area. However, JPL is already making a plan to serve as air traffic control when the fleet of spacecraft starts to descend on Mars.

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