NASA and its Chinese counterpart have exchanged information on their Mars missions to prevent their spacecrafts from colliding, despite heightened geopolitical tensions between the two countries. NASA had sought approval from Congress and talked with the China National Space Administration (CNSA) about the Tianwen-1, the Chinese Mars mission.
Nasa has been prohibited by law since 2011 through what is known as the Wolf clause from cooperating and collaborating with China unless congressional approval is granted case by case. Nasa must notify Congress at least 30 days in advance of any proposed contact.
NASA's statement coincided with China’s opening on Wednesday of its Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, to foreign astronomers. FAST, located in a remote part of the southern province of Guizhou, is the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope and the only observatory of its kind after the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico collapsed last December due to lack of maintenance.
NASA's acting administrator Steve Jurczyk said on March 23 that the CNSA had shared orbital data and information on the position and velocity of Tianwen-1 to avoid collisions.
NASA has been prohibited by law since 2011 through what is known as the Wolf clause from cooperating and collaborating with China unless congressional approval is granted case by case. Nasa must notify Congress at least 30 days in advance of any proposed contact.
NASA also reached out to other space agencies with spacecraft orbiting Mars. To assure the safety of our respective missions, NASA is coordinating with the UAE, European Space Agency, Indian Space Research Organisation and the China National Space Administration, 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.
This limited exchange of information is consistent with customary good practices used to ensure effective communication among satellite operators and spacecraft safety in orbit. But it did not reveal whether the exchange of information extended to data on future phases of the Tianwen-1, such as the planned landing in May.