There's a lot NASA doesn't know about China's activities in space.
In a rare turn of events, China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) exchanged information with NASA about its Mars orbiter, SpaceNews reports.
Earlier this month, NASA’s acting administrator Steve Jurczyk asked Congress for special approval to request information from NASA’s Chinese counterpart in order to mitigate any risk of the two nations’ spacecrafts colliding while orbiting the Red Planet.
It was an exceedingly rare instance of China-US space cooperation, as NASA largely relies on publicly available information about China’s space program.
“Most recently, we had an exchange with them on them providing their orbital data, their ephemeris data, for their Tianwen-1 Mars orbiting mission, so we could do conjunction analysis around Mars with the orbiters,” Jurczyk said during a March 23 meeting of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, as quoted by SpaceNews.
In a statement to SpaceNews, NASA noted that the agency also coordinated with the UAE, the European Space Agency, and the Indian Space Research Organization, “all of which have spacecraft in orbit around Mars, to exchange information on our respective Mars missions to ensure the safety of our respective spacecraft.”
Considering only a handful of spacecraft are currently orbiting Mars, a collision is extremely unlikely — but space agencies are trying to mitigate any possible risk due to the immense costs of any possible mishap.
China launched its Tianwen-1 Mars mission in July 2020, with the orbiter entering Martian orbit in February. The rest of the world has been largely kept in the dark, with only limited information being made available publicly about the spacecraft’s orbit.
It’s still unclear if the country will release any further information when Tianwen-1’s lander will attempt to break through the Martian atmosphere some time in May.
READ MORE: NASA exchanged data with China on Mars orbiters [SpaceNews]
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