SpaceX defends Starlink over collision issues

It’s been a mixed few months for SpaceX’s Starlink constellation. The company continues to ramp up deployments of internet service provider satellites, which with today’s launch will push the number in orbit to nearly 2,000. But the company has also come under scrutiny increasingly scrutinized, with China and NASA recently raising concerns about Starlink’s potential to cause collisions with other objects in low Earth orbit.

Now SpaceX is looking to allay some of those concerns. In a statement posted on its website Feb. 22, SpaceX pledged to “maintain a safe orbital environment, protect human spaceflight, and ensure the environment remains sustainable for future missions to Earth orbit and beyond.” of the”. The company argued that it had designed Starlink to be a safe and durable system and revealed details of how its satellites act autonomously to avoid collisions – details it had previously only hinted at. or that analysts had suspected.

“This is certainly the most detailed explanation that SpaceX has given of their procedures,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Astronomy. “It’s welcome, even if a few years later than it could have been.”

Collision course

Astronomers and dark sky advocates have long worried about Starlink, which seeks to provide high-speed internet access anywhere in the world. Satellites leave bright trails across astronomical images and are especially visible to the naked eye shortly after launch, before ascending into their operational orbit.

However, SpaceX’s statement comes as concerns about crashes are gaining more attention. On December 3 last year, in a rare move, China filed a complaint with the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, claiming that the country’s crewed space station was to carry out a maneuver to avoid a potential collision with a Starlink. satellite twice, on July 1 and October 21 last year. (McDowell checked orbital maneuvers with public tracking data.)

During a Dec. 28 press briefing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson accused the United States of ignoring its obligations under the Outer Space Treaty, Bloomberg reported. This treaty stipulates that the nations that have signed it are responsible for overseeing their country’s activities in space, whether carried out by a national space agency or a commercial operator.

Then, on February 7, NASA’s human spaceflight division submitted a letter to the Federal Communications Commission raising concerns about Starlink’s plan for its second-generation constellation, for which SpaceX is seeking permission to launch. 30,000 additional satellites. In the letter, which was first reported by Space News, NASA said a megaconstellation of this size would increase the risk of collisions in space that could threaten its satellites and astronauts. The agency also said glare from reflected sunlight could interfere with its space telescopes and Earth observation satellites.

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