The Chandrayaan-2 recently had a close shave. The lunar orbiter avoided a possible collision with NASA’s counterpart. Chandrayaan-2 is India’s second lunar exploration mission. India’s space agency said that the orbiter avoided the collision with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. This was for the first time in the history of Moon exploration when two orbiters came so close. The agency said that an evasive measure was carried out. This helped in avoiding the collision. The two were predicted to come very close near the North pole in lunar orbit on October 20. As per the calculations, the closest approach distance between the two spacecraft would have been around three km.
The space agencies of both countries decided to move away from the Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter well before the two spacecraft came close to each other. Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter was moved away on October 18. This ensured large radial separation between the two spacecraft at the closest conjunction in the lunar orbit. The agency said after the maneuver there will be no close conjunctions further between the two spacecraft. Chandrayaan-2 and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter orbit the Moon in a nearly polar orbit. Therefore, the two come close to each other near the Lunar poles. While Chandrayaan-2 is circling the Moon since 2019, NASA’s orbit has been going around the moon since 2009.
Such maneuvers for satellites in Earth orbit are common. This is important to avoid collisions between operational satellites and space debris. Such maneuvers have been becoming frequent. Satellites face threats from space junks that block the routes of satellites. Space debris in recent times has increased at an alarming rate and could be riskier for operational spacecraft. Recently, the International Space Station faced the risk of being hit by space junks created by Russia’s satellite breakup. Back in 2020, earth observation satellites of India and Russia had a near miss. They had come as close as 224 meters in outer space. Space agencies regularly monitor for close approaches. This was the first time when India’s space agency experienced such close conjunction and performed a collision-avoidance maneuver.