When the cap is ejected, it moves away from the spacecraft at approximately 3 m/s. At that point, it’s in its own distinct orbit around Mars. Because it was ejected from the spacecraft, the cap’s orbit crosses the MAVEN orbit at at least one point. Thus, there is the possibility that it could eventually have a close encounter with the spacecraft on a later orbit and possibly even collide with it. It would be pretty embarrassing if a collision occurred, especially if it damaged or destroyed the spacecraft!
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|Diagram showing the NGIMS instrument. The inlet to the instrument is covered by the break-off cap at the very far left. (Courtesy NASA/GSFC)|