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SpaceX: Here’s Why Starlink Poses No Orbital Hazard

The company posted a lengthy statement on its website after NASA and rival satellite internet companies question the size of the 30,000-satellite, second-gen Starlink network.

By Michael Kan

SpaceX is pushing back on worries the company’s Starlink network will one day crowd Earth’s orbit with too many satellites.

SpaceX on Tuesday published a 2,100-word statement on its website that lays out why it believes Starlink will never litter Earth’s orbit with space junk or cause orbital collisions with other satellites. The company also says it’s been sharing all orbital data from the existing Starlink network with governments and other satellite providers.

“SpaceX is striving to be the world’s most open and transparent satellite operator,” the company added, “and we encourage other operators to join us in sharing orbital data and keeping the public and governments updated with detailed information about operations and practices.”

The first-gen Starlink network (satellitemap.space)

The post comes as SpaceX is seeking FCC clearance to operate a second-generation Starlink network, which will span nearly 30,000 satellites, making it far and above the largest satellite constellation ever.

The second-generation network promises to help SpaceX offer high-speed satellite internet to millions of users, especially in rural and remote regions. However, last month NASA told the FCC it has some concerns about the proposed Starlink network colliding with other satellites, pointing to its vast size.

NASA’s other worry is that the second-gen Starlink network will prevent future missions to the International Space Station and make it harder for telescopes to study the Earth’s climate and detect near-Earth asteroids. That said, the space agency isn’t necessarily against the second-gen Starlink network, but it’s calling on SpaceX to supply more information about it.

Starlink satellite

Meanwhile, other satellite internet providers have told the FCC that the second-gen Starlink network’s massive size could one day prevent them from entering the market. Other critics are even demanding that US regulator dismiss the plan for the 30,000 constellation over concerns it’ll cause too much radio interference with other satellites in orbit and generate light pollution.

In response, SpaceX on Tuesday said it’s the leader in satellite safety and listed the various reasons why.

  • Each Starlink satellite is built with an anti-collision avoidance system, capable of maneuvering the satellite. “If there is a greater than 1/100,000 probability of collision (10x lower than the industry standard of 1/10,000) for a conjunction, satellites will plan avoidance maneuvers,” the company said.
  • SpaceX satellite operators are on call 24/7 to coordinate and respond to requests from other satellite companies.
  • The satellites have also been tested for high reliability, enabling SpaceX to launch over 2,000 satellites for the existing first-gen Starlink network with a failure rate at “only 1% after orbit raising.” Another 200 Starlink satellites have been safely deorbited.
  • All Starlink satellites operate in a “self-cleaning” low-Earth orbit below 600 kilometers, meaning the satellites will naturally de-orbit in five to six years and burn up in the atmosphere, generating no debris at all.

In addition, the company said it’s already been openly sharing information about Starlink orbits with the FCC, US Space Force, and Space-Track.org, a public website.

The company also noted that a NASA program has already reviewed the anti-collision avoidance system for the Starlink satellites and “rated it trustworthy to rely on it to avoid collisions with NASA science spacecraft.”

“SpaceX satellites’ flight paths are designed to avoid inhabited space stations like the International Space Station (ISS) and the Chinese Space Station Tiangong by a wide margin,” SpaceX went on to say. “We work directly with NASA and receive ISS maneuver plans to stay clear of their current and planned trajectory including burns. China does not publish planned maneuvers, but we still make every effort to avoid their station with ISS-equivalent clearance based on publicly available ephemerides.”

The company added it currently has the manufacturing capability to build up to 45 satellites per week. “Ultimately, space sustainability is a technical challenge that can be effectively managed with the appropriate assessment of risk, the exchange of information, and the proper implementation of technology and operational controls,” SpaceX said.

Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.

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