SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are responsible for more than half of all near-collisions in space, according to the head of the astronautics research group.
The craft of the space company, founded by Elon Musk, are involved in about 1,600 close encounters each week, said Hugh Lewis, head of the research group. A close encounter occurs when two craft pass within a kilometer of each other. With the exception of the company boat, Starlink passes a boat 500 times a week.
Lewis made the estimates based on data from the Satellite Orbital Conjunction Reports Assessing Threatening Encounters in Space (Socrates) database, which tracks bodies around Earth and models their trajectories to avoid accidents.
“I looked at data going back to May 2019, when Starlink first launched to understand the burden of these mega-stellations,” Lewis told Space.
“Since then, the number of matches recorded by the Socrates database has more than doubled and we are now in a situation where Starlink accounts for half of all matches.”
Once Starlink launches its full satellite network of 12,000 people, it will be involved in 90% of all close-range approaches, according to estimates. Currently, there are only 1,700 in space. SpaceX did not respond to The independents request for comments at time of publication.
OneWeb, by comparison, currently has 250 satellites and passes another operator’s satellite 80 times a week. The two companies encountered such a problem in April 2021, when it was reported that a SpaceX satellite was within 60 meters of a OneWeb spacecraft, with complaints about Starlink’s ability to deviate.
However, SpaceX later asserted that this was not the case – stating that “the probability of collision has never exceeded the threshold of a maneuver, and the satellites would not have collided even if no maneuver did not occur. had been carried out “.
In addition to satellites, there are approximately 228 million space debris in the world.
An infamous study by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978 warned that if two large objects entered launch impossible.
“This problem is getting really out of hand,” Siemak Hesar, CEO and co-founder of the commercial autonomous space traffic management system Kayhan Space, told Space.
“The processes currently in place are very manual, non-scalable, and there is not enough information sharing between the parties that could be affected in the event of a collision.”
He estimates that on average, a company managing 50 satellites would receive 300 conjunction alerts per week – regarding other satellites and debris.
“In a situation where you get alerts on a daily basis, you can’t maneuver for everything,” Lewis commented.
“The maneuvers use thruster, the satellite cannot provide service. So there must be a certain threshold. But it does mean that you accept some risk. The problem is, at some point you might make the wrong decision.
“Starlink doesn’t make public all of the maneuvers they do, but it is believed that they do a lot of little fixes and adjustments all the time. But it causes problems for everyone because no one knows where the satellite is going to be. and what he’s going to do in the next few days. “